Unlocking Sherlock

Elementary, my dear Watson.” The world’s most famous fictional character has, in fact, never uttered these words, yet they embody the one and only Sherlock Holmes, the best. For the grea

Published: 05th February 2012 11:10 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 05:50 PM   |  A+A-


Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson in BBC One’s TV series Sherlock

Elementary, my dear Watson.” The world’s most famous fictional character has, in fact, never uttered these words, yet they embody the one and only Sherlock Holmes, the best. For

the greatest detective ever, the rational conclusions were ‘elementary’ in that he considered them to be simple

and evident.

One hundrend and twenty five years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the ‘consulting detective’, Holmes continues to rein the minds of millions of ‘Sherlockians’; so much so many believe him to be a real person. Thousands of letters and consultation requests are received every year at his iconic 221B Baker Street address in London.

Doyle wrote 56 self-contained short stories and four novels featuring Sherlock Holmes. Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes to life in 1887 with A Study in Scarlet, a novel which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887.

The second novel, The Sign of the Four, came out in 1890. The stories cover a period from around 1880 to 1914. Of the 60 stories, 56 are narrated by Holmes’s fellow lodger, friend and biographer, Dr John H Watson. Two stories are narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself, and two others are written in the third person.

In building his own literary character, Doyle based Sherlock Holmes on Dr Joseph Bell. Doyle who was a practising doctor had studied medicine in Edinburgh University and Bell was one of his teachers. Dr Bell had the eerie ability to diagnose patients, divulge a patient’s symptoms and state their origins and lifestyle even before the patients uttered a word. Holmes’ character has also been influenced by Sir Henry Littlejohn, who taught Doyle forensic medicine.

There have been many speculations over who Doyle named the character after. Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American jurist and a fellow doctor, may have inspired the last name while the first name may have come from Alfred Sherlock, a prominent violinist of Doyle’s time. The honour of having inspired Holmes’s partner’s name went to Dr John Watson, a fellow Southsea doctor and Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society member who served time in Manchuria. Doyle planned the plot backwards from the result of a case to create his stories.

Doyle’s novelty in creating a character that appeared repeatedly in a series of self-contained stories meant that Holmes’s popularity grew with each instalment. Soon the character was so beloved that people refused to believe he wasn’t a real person. Thousands of letters addressed to ‘Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective’ started arriving daily at Baker Street and Scotland Yard, each begging him to take on a real case.

In the meantime, Doyle was growing weary of Holmes and his fame, and frequently threatened to kill the character off so that he could pursue ‘serious’ fiction instead. And in fact he did. In 1893, Doyle published The Final Problem, in which Holmes falls to his death over the Reichenbach Falls in mortal combat with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

But following the tremendous outcry from fans — some even wore mourning garb on streets and some newspapers actually ran headlines about Holmes’s death —  Doyle was forced to resurrect Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first new Holmes story to appear after this, but Doyle set the novel retrospectively so that he could avoid the problem of bringing Holmes back to life.

But the public was not pleased with a posthumous Holmes and so Doyle revived Holmes two years later and continued to write on Holmes’ adventures for 24 more years.

Holmes got a boost with the coming of the motion pictures. The first Sherlock Holmes film was produced in 1900. In 1939 the novels were developed as a series of films starring Basil Rathbone, establishing the trademark deerstalker, pipe and spyglass as an international visual icon.

Many more films followed. The latest are the two Sherlock Holmes movies directed by Guy Ritchie starring Robert Downing Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr Watson.

Even the idiot box turned intelligent by airing Sherlock Holmes stories, the most famous being the BBC TV series starring Jeremy Brett.

It doesn’t end there. The latest talk in the entertainment world is of the BBC One TV series Sherlock which features a modern Holmes in 21st century London, carrying a Blackberry.

In whatever form or whatever era, the world’s favourite detective continues to fascinate minds.

Stay up to date on all the latest Bengaluru news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp