More than a century after first emerging, in the fog-bound gas-lit streets of Victorian London, Sherlock Holmes is universally recognizable.
Even his wardrobe and accessories are iconic. The cape, the deerstalker hat, and calabash pipe and best friend and housemate Doctor Watson, arch-nemesis Moriarty and house owner/keeper Mrs. Hudson, have become the part of the popular consciousness.
Damn, I forgot about his extraordinary infallible powers of deduction, utilized in the name of the law. His arrogance and his drug use and his popular catchphrase “Elementary My Dear Watson”.
Yes, I love Sherlock Holmes.
Now, what if I tell you, most of these most iconic characteristics about Sherlock Holmes are not a part of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories.
Doyle’s great detective solves crimes in all sort of ways, not just using deductions. He speculates and times even guesses and regularly makes false assumptions.
And also Mrs. Hudson is barely mentioned in the books, 6 times in all the stories combined.
No one says “Elementary my dear Watson “and also Holmes and Watson stay far apart for much of the times.
Moriarty, the grand villain, only appears in two stories. Just Two.
The detective’s drug use is infrequent, after the first two novels. Also, Holmes is rarely in leagues with the justice system. He is someone who prefers enacting his own form of natural justice.
Finally, may of the most iconic Holmesian legends aren’t Doyle’s either.
Yes, my friends, you were all living a dream.
The deerstalker cap and cape were first imagined by Sidney Paget, the stories initial illustrator. The curve pipe was chosen by American actor William Gillette, so the audiences can more clearly see his face on stage, and the phase “Elementary my dear Watson” was coined by author and humourist P.G.Wodehouse.
So, who exactly is the real Sherlock Holmes?
Who is the real great detective and where do we find him?
Purists might answer that the original Sherlock inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s university mentor Dr. Joseph Bell.
Ps: It’s not actually a relevant point, I am just showing off.
But that avatar is lost under the sheer volume of interpretation leaving Doyle’s detective largely unrecognizable.
Well, there is another answer to the question, but to get to we need to first cover the vast body of interpretations of the great detective.
Since Conan Doyle’s first story in 1887, there have been thousands of adaptations of Holmes.
Not kidding Sherlock is the most adapted fictional character in the world.
From the initial Victorian plays to the modern-day movies, there were more than hundred film adaptations of Holmes, in the first decade of the 20th century alone. And since then there were much more in print and on film, television, stage and radio.
Holmes has been reinterpreted by people ever were, in many remarkably different, and often contradictory ways. For instance, he was in number of allied anti-Nazi propaganda films, during world war 2, and at the same time Holmes also featured in various German language movies, some of which were said to have been many-loved favorites of Adolf Hitler
So, let’s get back to our Question, who is the real Sherlock Holmes?
The truth is that this world of adaptation has made him into a palimpsest.
Yes, it’s, actually a word it means: “piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.”
Sherlock is a cultural text, repeated over a time as each new interpretation becomes superimposed over those who precedes it that means, Sherlock continually evolves, Just like a Pokémon. Embodying ideas and values far removed in Conan Doyle. After each particular story ends, Sherlock rises again, with a new face and fresh mannerism or turns of phrases, but still essentially Sherlock, our Sherlock.