My little brother fell in love with Sherlock Holmes after the Robert Downey Jr. movie hit theatres, and I remember that he bought a large collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories soon afterward. He read them hungrily, no doubt imagining Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent portrayal as he consumed each page, but also noting how good each story was. My first impressions of Sherlock Holmes came a little before this (not for better or worse), as I remember flipping through The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) when I was a young kid, but I couldn’t make much of the language at the time; though I do remember being morbidly intrigued (it was like reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” (1843) for the first time shudders).
Anyhow, I am bringing all of this up because Dec. 1st is Sherlock Holmes Day (but so is May 22nd apparently…but who cares?), which is a day celebrating the intrepid investigator, and rightfully so because the sleuth has left an indelible mark on literature through 56 short stories and 4 novels (and those are just the ones Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote!). Doyle’s creation also appeared in many different forms of media, too, from movies to short stories to radio plays (The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). He is even woven into the fabric of mystery stories, sometimes subtly (Enola Holmes) and sometimes not (Holmes and Watson).
I suppose Dec.1st is a particularly notable day for Mr. Holmes because it marks his first appearance in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “A Study in Scarlet” (1887). However, while momentous, I think it’s important to note Doyle’s other works featuring the detective, including The Sign of the Four (1890), The Valley of Fear (1915), “A Scandal in Bohemia,” (1891) “The Red-Headed League,” (1891) and “A Case of Identity” (1891).
Here’s an excerpt from chapter two of A Study in Scarlet, which elaborates on sidekick John H. Watson’s immediate observations about living with the eccentric detective:
“Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes in the dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take him into the lowest portions of the City. Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.”
(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | A Study in Scarlet)
Furthermore, I should also note that Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic character with many talents that help him solve complex crimes (albeit he is a little Superman-y as the narrative on his abilities changes every so often throughout his history). Some of these skills include a knowledge of literature, philosophy, astronomy, politics, botany, geology, chemistry, anatomy, sensationalist literature, and so on (some of his other skills include the ones he hasn’t tried yet). I think what makes him such a great character is our desire as readers to solve carefully plotted murders and stop villains from striking again!
There is a lot of history surrounding Holmes (which I will touch on in the future), so spend Sherlock Holmes Day researching stories about him, or watching Basil Rathbone’s expert interpretation on film, or even plumbing the depths of the internet for one of Doyle’s own short stories in celebration!