Somewhere in one of those double lives that writing allows you to live, I write about genre television, films and books originating in the United Kingdom for the website Cult Britannia. Through this experience I have been privileged to see a lot of great British television and films as well as having read some excellent books.
When thinking of the printed word, there is one iconic British character that has always stood out: Sherlock Holmes.
Since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first sold Holmes’ debut, A Study In Scarlet in 1887 to Beeton’s Christmas Annual, the ‘consulting detective’ has become famous all across the world. Numerous movies, books and even video games have been made in the decades that followed his initial fame, making Holmes a larger then life persona that seemed to endure, generation after generation.
Remarkably, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lost interest in his most famous creation at one time, as he considered his other writing, that of historical novels, more important. Doyle also was growing weary of the ever present deadline for each new Holmes story, a problem made more poignant by the fact that although the tales were shorter in length then a full novel, the plots needed were just as intricate as the book format, if not more. He made his decision to kill off Sherlock clear when he informed his mother Mary that he would “think of slaying Holmes… and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.”
These feelings lead Doyle to kill off Sherlock Holmes in his 1893 story The Final Problem where he plunged to his death along with his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. However, the public outcry was so great that Doyle was almost forced to bring back Holmes in 1902 in the infamous Hound of the Baskervilles, which was set before Holmes death, eliminating any kind of explanation of how Holmes could have lived. A year later however the author made it known that Holmes had not died in the fall; he had merely used the event to go into hiding from his numerous enemies.
Doyle was not the only one guilty of bringing back Sherlock Holmes, as numerous versions have appeared since then in various forms of media. In my mind, however, the printed word will always be the Baker Street detective’s first home and authors as from Stephen Fry to Stephen King have taken to writing as Doctor Watson and keeping the spirit of the detective alive for all to enjoy.
Recently I have rediscovered the character of Sherlock Holmes through books provided to Cult Britannia for review purposes. Some of these new novels really show how far the Sherlock Holmes legend can be retold and retooled as Holmes meets up with famous names like Dracula and Jack the Ripper and goes on some diverse new adventures that even Doyle himself might think worthy of the detective’s highly valuable time.
In the end, Sherlock Holmes surely stands out as one of the more iconic fiction creations of our time, perhaps even more popular now than in the past due to the fact that the detective uses the natural resources of his mind and the powers of deduction and observation while our modern cardboard cut out television heroes are caught in a world of technology and computers, making their feats seem dull by comparison.