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Sherlock Holmes

Entry updated 3 April 2023. Tagged: Theme.

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Arthur Conan Doyle's famous hero Sherlock Holmes (see Icons) was introduced as a scientific detective operating by rigorous logic – but Doyle's master-stroke was to show him through the eyes of his staunch but uncomprehending companion Doctor Watson, providing a human frame for what might have been an arid inspiration. Although Holmes stories did not always fully honour this template description, Holmes himself soon became 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. Though some stories push against the envelope of the fantastic, the closest actual approach to sf in the original Doyle canon is a late tale, "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 (see Apes as Human).

For the first decades after his creation, the Holmes figure was frequently borrowed by many contemporary authors, sometimes under his own name, as in Mark Twain's A Double Barrelled Detective Story (1902 chap), and in the tales assembled in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (anth 1985) edited by Roger Lancelyn Green; sometimes – as in Maurice LeBlanc's Arsène Lupin sequence – as a character whose name is a Parody of the original; John Kendrick Bangs employed both tactics variously in his Sherlock Holmes/Raffles Parodies. After Holmes entered the public domain (see below), his name itself became common currency. In nonfiction, Ronald A Knox's satirically intended "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" (written 1911; July 1912 The Blue Book [an Oxford undergraduate review not to be confused with the US pulp magazine]) launched the numbing tradition of minutely scholarly analysis of the Holmes canon, and Michael Harrison published several volumes of Holmes studies.

More often, the pre-public-domain Holmes was used as a template, sometimes little modified, for the creation of ostensibly separate detectives. The range of borrowings was very wide, as demonstrated by Hugh Greene's four Anthologies: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Early Detective Stories (anth 1970), More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Cosmopolitan Crimes (anth 1971), The Crooked Counties: Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (anth 1973) and The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (anth 1976) [various vts and resortings are not listed here]. Authors given entries in this encyclopedia with one or more tales in one or more of Greene's anthologies include Samuel Hopkins Adams, Grant Allen, Edwin Balmer, Robert Barr, Arnold Bennett, Guy Boothby, Ernest Bramah, Robert Eustace, J S Fletcher, Jaques Futrelle, George Griffith, William Hope Hodgson, Fergus Hume, Maurice LeBlanc, William Le Queux, William MacHarg, L T Meade, E Phillips Oppenheim, Baroness Orczy, Rodriguez Ottolengui, Max Pemberton, Charles Felton Pidgin, Arthur B Reeve. It should be noted that all of Greene's selections were originally published before the outbreak of World War One, after which point (he suggests) the imperial arena (see Imperialism) soon became arid ground for the investigations of Holmes in any version: an inevitable denaturing of the Holmesian world that for instance underlies Michael Chabon's melancholy The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (2004), which is set at the end of his life.

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. Sherrinford Holmes (see above) reappears in Marvin Kaye's The Incredible Umbrella (1979) together with his faithful companion Ormond Sacker, an alternative name Doyle had considered for Dr Watson. 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.

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 Wellman 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. Recent plays are less commonly found, Philip Pullman's Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror (1992 chap) being one of relatively few examples.

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: 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. Aliette de Bodard's The Tea Master and the Detective (2018 chap) is a Space Opera whose Holmes is female and whose Watson is a ship mind; the Holmes and Watson duo in Beth Bernobich's Near Future A Study in Honor (2018) as by Claire O'Dell are gay women of colour.

Theatrical adaptations, by Doyle himself or others, are normally nonfantastic, several of them being assembled in Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha (anth 1980) edited by Jack Tracy, a marginal exception being The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes (performed 1905; 1955 chap) by William Gillette (1853-1937). Philip Pullman's Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror (performed 1984; 1992 chap) edges into the fantastic. Much later, in A Sherlock Carol (performed 2022), written and directed by Mark Shanahan, Holmes is depicted as a Scrooge-like figure from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843). The numerous television adaptations generally follow Doyle's original in being nonfantastic; an exception is the self-explanatory animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999-2001), which proved less memorable than its title promised.

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 series 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. [DRL/BS/JonC/JC]

further reading


Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Rivals of Sherlock Holmes II

individual titles (selected)

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


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