Although Sherlock Holmes is not the original fictional detective (he was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq, for both of whom the character openly expressed disdain or contempt), his name has become a byword for the part. His stories also include several detective story characters, such as the loyal but less intelligent assistant, a role for which Dr Watson has become the archetype. The investigating detective became a popular genre with many authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers after the demise of Holmes, with characters such as Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. Forensic methods became less important than the psychology of the criminal, despite the strong growth in forensics in use by the police in the early 20th century.
Of course, one of the phrases most closely identified with Sherlock Holmes the character is “Elementary my dear Watson.” Just like the famous phrase “Play it again Sam” (that never was actually said by Rick or Ilsa), Holmes never actually says “Elementary…”
Doyle’s Holmes stories and novels are called the “Canon of Sherlock Holmes” to differentiate between the original writings and all the folks who have taken their own liberties with the Holmes legend. I know I discovered Doyle’s first book of short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at about age 12. I think my grandmother had it. From there I know I read The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, and The Sign of the Four. I’ve read a few of the Holmes books and stories by others and I think the Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer is about the best of these.
By my count, there have been 79 different actors to play Sherlock Holmes on stage, screen, television, radio but Basil Rathbone is the “gold standard” of Holmes, appearing at least fifteen times. Of course, only the first two movies, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are set in Victorian England. The remainder of the films and Homes got transplanted to “modern times” (i.e., contemporary for when they are made) with many of the plots revolving around Nazi spies and super secret weapons. But I know that I and many of my friends would camp out in front of the TV late at night in college when one of the local stations played all the old Sherlock Holmes movies.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually had a life outside of his writings as a physician and managed to solve a couple of real life crimes, resulting in two wrongly convicted men being exonerated. For creating an iconic character copied and added to by writers the world over, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has to be considered an influential writer.
And because I can:
Photo from Cody and Maureen licensed under Creative Commons