Monday, January 12, 2015

221b Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes

When Arthur Conan Doyle (not knighted until 1902) created the character of Sherlock Holmes, he had little idea of the enduring sleuth he'd started writing about. Indeed, Holmes was so popular than when he took his infamous tumble off the Reichenbach Falls in in 1881 in the story The Final Problem (published in 1881) it is rumored that British citizens wore black armbands as a sign of their mourning of the great detective. But let's take a look at the introduction of Holmes.

In A Study In Scarlet, Dr. Watson and the readers were first introduced to the character of Sherlock Holmes. While he isn't the pioneer of the genre, Sherlock Holmes no doubt helped to bring the detective novel into the public eye.

A self-proclaimed 'consulting detective', Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning, and forensic skills to solve cases. He was also even consulted by the police, perhaps resulting in one of the first 'police consultants' in fiction.

After meeting Holmes, Watson, not knowing what to make of the man, complied a list of his strengths and weaknesses, that appears in A Study In Scarlet.

Knowledge of Literature: Nil.
Knowledge of Philosophy: Nil.
Knowledge of Astronomy: Nil.
Knowledge of Politics: Feeble.
Knowledge of Botany: Variable.
(Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.)
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.)
Knowledge of Chemistry: Profound.
Knowledge of Anatomy: Accurate but unsystematic.
Knowledge of Sensational Literature: Immense.
(He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.)
Plays the violin well.
Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

What's interesting to note is how this list differs from the common portrayal of Holmes.

Common Misconceptions About Sherlock Holmes

He's a bad violinist. Actually, as evidenced by Watson himself, Holmes is quite good. Of course, if you'd ask the average person that's never read any Holmes stories, they would agree with the more common movie/television portrayal.

He wears a deerstalker. He doesn't. It is because of the illustrator for the original stories that this image became so ingrained in public opinion. He also didn't smoke while investigating, returning to his flat for a 'three-pipe problem'.

Elementary, my dear Watson. This, probably Holmes most iconic quote, was in fact never said in the original stories.

He had no knowledge of literature. This was a misconception of Watson's as, upon first meeting the detective, he thought he had no knowledge of literature. Later, this would prove inaccurate.

Irene Adler. Nearly every recent remake turns Ms. Adler into Holmes love interest. However, Adler and Holmes shared nearly no scenes together in the canon - and, while Holmes does refer to her as 'the woman, she was also married. Most people that read the original stories believe that Adler was 'the woman' to Holmes out of respect for her intelligence - as Holmes is mentioned as having little patience with emotional people and women in general.

While there are plenty of other misconceptions and ideas about Holmes - thanks to movies and television, and plenty of other sights that give comprehensive lists - one thing is certain. Mr Holmes is the greatest and most enduring 'consulting detective' of all time.

To the right, you'll see a picture of Holmes that Sir Arthur Doyle said most closely matched his idea of Holmes.