Sherlock Holmes

Tagged: Theme

Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic hero (see Icons) Sherlock Holmes was introduced as a scientific detective operating by rigorous logic – Doyle's master-stroke being to show him through the eyes of his staunch but uncomprehending companion Doctor Watson. Although Holmes did not always fully live up to this description, he is an inevitable underlier figure for sf Scientists and other reasoners confronted not only by impersonal theoretical problems but by the trickier complications of real-life Crime and Punishment. The closest approach to sf in the original Doyle canon is the late story "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" (March 1923 Strand), which takes a dim view of the popular "monkey gland" Rejuvenation process of Serge Voronoff and suggests that ape-derived nostrums may lead to ape-like behaviour.

Holmes is often explicitly echoed in sf, as in Poul Anderson's "The Martian Crown Jewels" (February 1958 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), whose Alien detective is called Syaloch and affects a tirstokr hat; another Anderson investigator in "The Queen of Air and Darkness" (April 1971 F&SF) is named Sherrinford, Doyle's original intended forename for Holmes; Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy and his forensic sorcerer Master Sean are very much a Holmes/Watson duo. Gerald Heard's A Taste for Honey (1941; vt A Taste for Murder 1955) introduces the series character Mr Mycroft, who though taking his name from Holmes's fictional brother is evidently though unstatedly an aged Holmes who has (as once planned by Doyle's character) retired to keep bees. August Derleth respectfully pastiched Holmes as Solar Pons, who is wont to refer to his "illustrious prototype"; the Pons canon includes the joky Time-Travel story "The Adventure of the Snitch in Time" (July 1953 F&SF) with Mack Reynolds. Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" (in Shadows Over Baker Street, anth 2003, ed Michael Reaves and John Pelan) artfully involves an unnamed Holmes – and his nemesis Professor Moriarty – with the Cthulhu Mythos. In nonfiction, Ronald A Knox's satirically intended "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" (written 1911; 1912 Blue Book) launched the numbing tradition of minutely scholarly analysis of the Holmes canon, and Michael Harrison published several volumes of Holmes studies.

Since Holmes fell into the public domain the character has been popular in sf stories without any such cautious distancing. He appears in key roles in, among others (for further details see individual authors): Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds (1975) by Manly Wade and Wade Wellman, The Earthquake Machine (1976) by Austin Mitchelson and Nicholas Utechin, Exit Sherlock Holmes (1977) by Robert Lee Hall, Morlock Night (1979) by K W Jeter, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978) and Dr Jekyll and Mr Holmes (1979) by Loren D Estleman, and Time for Sherlock Holmes (1983) by David Dvorkin. Druid's Blood (1988) by Esther M Friesner features Holmes (here called Brihtric Donne) in an alternate world where Magic works; Doyle himself appears as Arthur Elric Boyle. Fred Saberhagen wrote Holmes into his Dracula sequence in The Holmes-Dracula File (1978) and Seance for a Vampire (1994), and Philip José Farmer wove both Sherlock and his corpulent brother Mycroft into the fantastically elaborated Wold Newton Family genealogy, one example being The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by John H Watson, M D (1974), in which Holmes and Watson encounter the titular Lord Greystoke or Tarzan.

In Cinema, Holmes's sexuality is discussed in a proto-Steampunk context in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). Steven Spielberg's film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985; vt Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear) re-invents – or travesties – Holmes as full-on Steampunk. More amusingly, Holmes is depicted as a Sleeper Awakes character grappling with the late twentieth century in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987). In Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 (1999-2000; graph 2000) Holmes and Mycroft make cameo appearances and Moriarty is a major villain.

The first novel of the Holmes "revival", The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974) by Nicholas Meyer, though not sf, is of sf interest in that it involves early psychoanalysis (see Psychology) and the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). A number of sf authors have written non-fantastic Holmes pastiches: they include John Kendrick Bangs with his Sherlock Holmes/Raffles Parodies; Lloyd Biggle Jr with The Quailsford Inheritance (1986) and The Glendower Conspiracy (1990); Caleb Carr with The Italian Secretary (2005); Paul W Fairman with the film Tie A Study in Terror (1966; vt Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack the Ripper 1967) with and as by Ellery Queen; and Michael Kurland with The Infernal Device (1979) and Death by Gaslight (1982). Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Bill Fawcett – writing together as Quinn Fawcett – reinvented Holmes's portly, indolent brother as an unlikely action-hero in the Mycroft Holmes pastiches beginning with Against the Brotherhood: A Mycroft Holmes Novel (1997). Of related interest is Hilary Bailey's The Strange Adventures of Charlotte Holmes: Sister of the More Famous Sherlock (1994). Mike Ashley's The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (anth 1997), though not principally an sf anthology, includes such items as Stephen Baxter's "The Adventure of the Inertial Adjustor", featuring H G Wells and an implied flight to the Moon. The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls (2008) by John R King brings together Holmes (suffering from Amnesia), Watson and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki.

Sherlock Holmes has also been adapted into Manga form on many occasions, including versions of "The Speckled Band" (graph 1956 Shōjo Club) by Shōtarō Ishinomori, "Hi-iro no Kenykū" ["A Study in Scarlet"] (graph 2008) by Kazusa Miyakoshi and the six-volume Sherlock Holmes Zenshū Manga ["Complete Sherlock Holmes Comics"] (graph 1996) by Tatsuyoshi Kobayashi. An anthropomorphic version of the detective appeared in the Anime Meitantei Holmes (1984; trans as Sherlock Hound, 2010 UK), the first few episodes of which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Kaoru Shintani's ongoing Christie High Tension (graph 2007 Comic Flapper) retells Holmes's adventures from the point of view of his niece, Christie Hope. Such works, however, barely scratch the surface of a list of spin-offs so multifarious as to suggest that Holmes is at least as popular in Japan as he is in the Anglophone world.

Relevant sf anthologies include The Science-Fictional Sherlock Holmes (anth 1960) edited anonymously by Norm Metcalf; Sherlock Holmes through Time and Space (anth 1984) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H Greenberg and Charles G Waugh; and Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (anth 1995) edited by Martin H Greenberg and Mike Resnick. [DRL/BS/JonC]

see also: Ranpo Edogawa; Fred T Jane; Marvin Kaye; Maurice Richardson; Series; Sexton Blake Library; The Strand Magazine.


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