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Cultural Effect of Sherlock Holmes

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When someone mentions the occupation of detective, a single image usually comes to mind, a man wearing a cape and deerstalker, holding a magnifying glass and smoking a pipe. This entire image can be contributed to one character: Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is considered by many to be the greatest detective to ever exist, even if he only exists in the pages of books and on movie and television screens. It is impossible to escape the influence of Holmes. Countless references are made to him in all types of media and he is used as an inspiration to may more fictional characters we have all grown to love.

The cultural impact of Sherlock Holmes has spread to more than just fiction; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes has influenced everything from scientific investigation, internet and pop culture, and the television shows and movies we all know and love. The background of the character is just as interesting as the character then the stories themselves. While Sherlock Holmes was not a real person, he was inspired by a real life doctor and master of deduction (Liebow). Holmes’ best know methods of detective work are his superhuman observation skills and deductions based on what he sees.

Joseph Bell, a pioneer of pediatric medicine and surgery, who taught Doyle while he was at medical school was know to deduce his patients to help diagnose their ailments (Raffensperger). Bell also would help the police, but unlike Holmes, he only helped in analyzing forensic evidence not with the actual casework (Liebow). Holmes first appeared in an issue of Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 (Bloomington). The first story, A Study in Scarlet, was one of only 4 full length novels about Holmes, the rest other 56 Holmes stories being published in short story form by Strand magazine (Bloomington).

While Doyle received high praise and fame for his Holmes stories, he did not particularly enjoy writing them. Doyle killed off Holmes in the short story The Final Problem. The fan reaction to the death of Holmes was unlike any reaction to the death of a fictional character ever before. Fans mourned in the streets and wore black armbands, the strand magazine that the stories were published in lost 20 thousand subscribers and Doyle’s own mother begged him to not kill off the detective (Leith). Doyle eventually brought the detective back in 1901 much to fans relief.

The last Holmes stories by Doyle were published in 1927 and had Holmes and retired in the countryside (Leith). Sherlock Holmes is the original private investigator or as he chose to title himself, a consulting detective. Holmes worked in conjunction with the police and was often the person they would come to when they absolutely had nowhere else to turn. He is a master of deduction, disguise, forensic science and an amateur boxer (Heart). With all these qualities, it is easy to see why he has had such a deep impact on both the literary and real world.

One of his greatest contributions to the world is the use of scientific methods to solve crime. Holmes is the first literary character to use forensic evidence as part of his investigations (Berg 446). Doyle used many new ideas of investigation when writing the Holmes series that are now in use in modern police forces, such as the analysis of different types of tobacco ash and using mud and soil samples to determine past locations (Berg 446). Many of the pioneers of forensic investigation cite Holmes as their teacher and inspiration in the field such as the supposed creator of forensic science, Alphonse Bertillon (Berg 447).

Doctor Edmond Locard, a French scientist that developed methods of dust identification has been quoted saying that, “Sherlock Holmes was the first to realize the importance of dust. I merely copied his methods” (Bergs 448). Holmes stories were even the start of the now cliche use of letters made of words cut out of magazines and newspapers (Berg 451). Forensics was in its infancy when the Holmes stories and with out the massive popularity of them, many suspect that the field would have stayed that way for much longer (Bergs 447).

While there has been criticism of the Holmesian method of deduction, many people support the idea that the use of deducing people can help with capture of criminals. While Holmes refers to his findings as deduction himself many people say, “that the process that Sherlock Holmes engages in is usually not deduction” (Novella). Deduction is defined as using a logic method of assumptions based on general statements about the world (Novella). However, Holmes himself makes more of an educated inference on what he observes about the suspects and evidence in his surroundings.

The term “Holmesian Deduction” has been used to distinguish the two different methods (Novella). Holmes most famous quote, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”, is often cited as the best definition to his method of deduction. While it is not a method commonly used now thanks to more advances in crime fighting methods and technology, Holmesian deduction has certainly influenced that way we look at a crime scene. One of the things that made the Sherlock Holmes stories so unique when it came out were the fans.

The original Sherlock Holmes fans are now widely considered to be the world’s first fandom (Brown). Self dubbed the Baker Street Irregulars after the group of street children Holmes employed in the original canon (although more recently rebranded as “sherlockians”) fans of the series have always had a strong presence in the literary community and now online. The Sherlock fandom is largely responsible to the reboot of the series after Doyle “killed” Holmes in The Final Problem.

And while Sherlockians were present in during the 20th century, the Sherlock fandom got a new wind in 2010 thanks to the BBC hit television show Sherlock, a retelling of the much loved stories in a modern setting. This newly revived Sherlock fandom took the Internet by storm with the sheer intensity it had for the show and the original canon (Laredo). The season two finale showed Holmes leaping to his apparent death after being framed as a fake by his arch nemesis Moriarty, only to be shown in the final few seconds of the episode watch John Watson walk away from his grave in mourning, the fandom erupted.

People wrote dozens of theories about how the sleuth could have survived and even started an entire Internet and flier campaign about the detective’s supposedly fraudulent deductions appropriately titled the “I believe in Sherlock Holmes” campaign (Laredo). Without the original Holmes fandom, there would be much less Sherlock Holmes in this world, whether that be the original stories themselves, the much loved television and movie adaption and even fan fiction. Today, fandom communities on the Internet can be found everywhere and about anything from Sherlock Holmes himself to My Little Pony.

Fandom fosters a community on the Internet that allows individuals to explore their interests with others without having to physically know them. While not the most academic source, tumblr user Terresdebrume gives the best and most positive definition of what fandom is which, “is essentially, the collective refusal of thousands of people across the world to be passive about the media they are exposed to” (Terresdebrume). One of the biggest and most obvious influences of Sherlock Holmes is the character himself. Sherlock Holmes himself has almost become an archetype of himself.

There have been dozens of remakes of the classic stories. There have been at least 75 different actors who have portrayed the detective on stage and screen in the past 120 years (Kwiatkoski). Probably the most famous adaption of Holmes is the Basil Rathbone adaptions. Rathbone played Holmes from 1939 to 1946 (Kwiatkoski). There have also been very many recent adaptions to the story, each making their own distinct changes to the stories; Guy Richie’s action star Holmes, BBC’s modern Holmes and more recently, CBS’s moved to America and fresh out of rehab Holmes.

Holmes has becoming a character that is always present in some form or another. While Sherlock Holmes is never in short supply when it comes to tv and movies, there are also a number of famous character modeled off him. Everywhere you look, there is a character modeled after Holmes and Watson, the most obvious being Doctor House. House on the television show House. House is essentially what Holmes would be is he were a doctor in the 21st century. The names are even similar enough that it is impossible to not connect the characters.

Some other characters that are also modeled after Holmes are Jane from The Mentalist, Mulder from The X-Files, Mister Spock from Star Trek and Doctor Temperance Brennan from the show Bones (Kwiatkoski). While all of these characters are different, they all share one similarity that makes it impossible to separate them from the Holmes comparison and that is that ever Holmes must have his Watson. Spock has Kirk, House has Wilson and Mulder has Scully. The character of Watson must never be overlooked when talking about Sherlock Holmes.

Watson is often labeled the sidekick, but when it comes to any adaption of Holmes, Watson plays just as an important role as the detective does. The two characters balance each other and truly would not be the same without each other (Kwiatkoski). Part of the reason Holmes has stayed relevant for so long is because of his bond with Watson which in turn helps bond him to the audience and make him easy to adapt into different roles, time periods and field of work.

Sherlock Holmes is a character that has defined scientific fields, Internet culture and screens big and small. The cultural and intellectual impact of the detective is impossible to be overlooked. Holmes defines what most people think when they hear detective and is said to be the best there ever was or ever will be. The Holmes stories has stood the test of time for the last 120 years and will surely last much, much longer than that.

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