No list on the best fictional detectives is complete without the renowned literary sleuth who resides at 221B Baker Street in London, England: Sherlock Holmes.
This beloved character was created by the well-known English author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930). Sherlock inspired many of Doyle’s works, as he appears as the central character in a total of 4 novels and 56 short stories.
As the world’s most famous literary detective, the name of Sherlock Holmes typically induces some degree of familiarity for most people. It would likely conjure up a mental image of an English middle-aged man wearing the now iconic mouse-colored Inverness cape and a deerstalker cap while smoking a pipe or rushing across London in a flare of eccentricity with his constant companion Dr. John Watson.
This depiction of Sherlock Holmes originates from the movie and television show adaptions of Doyle’s literary detective. Though the Sherlock hat does make a brief appearance in Doyle’s stories, this distinctive depiction does not come directly from the detective figure’s creator. None of these seemingly Sherlockian features were ever defining aspects of the literary character; some of them never even make a cameo appearance in Doyle’s stories.
Many people who think they know some characteristics or facts about Sherlock Holmes often have fallen prey to some common misconceptions about the character. Few people today recognize the famous detective figure directly from the source by having read Doyle’s classic detective stories. Sherlock is no stranger to the film industry, having inspired countless adaptions; these depictions are the culprits that have spread the widely-accepted common misconceptions about this literary character.
Here are some other common misconceptions about Sherlock Holmes perpetuated in the television shows and movie adaptations of Doyle’s stories:
“Elementary, my dear Watson”
Almost as iconic as the Sherlock-ian garb, this common quote from Sherlock Holmes in the movies does not originate in Doyle’s writings. The original literary figure never actually uttered this phrase; it is an invention from the film industry that instantly became vogue from the moment it was first introduced in the popular 1939 Basil Rathbone film series.
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are often times depicted as being middle-aged men. This is completely true concerning the later stories, as the time period in Doyle’s works spans from 1881-1914. However, when these two characters originally met in 1881, Doyle states that Holmes was 27 and Dr. Watson was around the same age.
Sherlock’s Impeccable Record
True: Sherlock Holmes was a genius and an amazing detective that is able to crack difficult cases through his science of deduction.
False: Sherlock Holmes can solve any problem or mystery. There is no truth that Sherlock will not be able to deduce and no mystery that he is incapable of solving.
Although Sherlock Holmes has an incredible talent for noticing and observing evidence overlooked by others—as Sherlock teaches Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia” when he tells Watson “You see, but you do not observe”—he is no miracle-worker. Sherlock merely observes that which others do not deem important to consider, yet he must have evidence on which to base his deductions. In the wise words of Sherlock Holmes: “it is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence” (A Study in Scarlet)
There were a few cases in which there was a significant lack of evidence for Sherlock to use in order to create a comprehensive theory. Sherlock himself tells us that he was beaten on four separate occasions (not recorded by Dr. Watson) while Doyle presents through Watson’s records on Sherlock Holmes multiple cases which Sherlock Holmes was unable to solve (“The Dancing Men”, “The Five Orange Pips”, and “The Yellow Face”).
Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes
Professor Moriarty is known as the arch-enemy of Sherlock Holmes. This is not fully true, however.
In Doyle’s fiction, Professor Moriarty is a criminal advisor and the ringleader of a wide-spread, underground criminal network in London which Sherlock was responsible for uncovering and taking down. Yet, most of Sherlock’s work in undermining this network occurs after he defeats Moriarty. Though this villain is mentioned a few times in Doyle’s work, Moriarity actually only appears in a single story: “The Final Problem”.
Moriarty is not Sherlock’s arch-enemy in the sense that the two are stuck in a constant struggle, as they only confront each other in Doyle’s one story, however, it is more so his legacy that is closer to being Sherlock’s arch-enemy. Sherlock’s greatest and longest work is tearing down the criminal network put into place by Professor Moriarty.
Although Doyle’s original creation of the world’s most loved detective figure is not accurately represented by the film adaptions, these movies and television series do capture the essence of the literary character. Adapting these detective stories and the enthralling character of Sherlock Holmes into the world of film as kept the spirit of Doyle’s work and creations alive. Many people would not know Sherlock Holmes without the movies and televisions series, so it the misconceptions that these films spread are condonable as long as it keeps that memory of Sherlock Holmes alive.
That said, it is still important for any true Sherlock Holmes fans to appreciate the true character by reading the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The screen adaptions of Sherlock may be fun, but none of these depictions compare to the original character portrayed in the literature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.