Twenty Facts About Sherlock Holmes

1. Sherlock Holmes was originally going to be called Sherrinford. The name was altered to Sherlock, possibly because of a cricketer who bore the name. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes (of course), was a fan of cricket and the name ‘Sherlock’ appears to have stuck in his memory. 
For more on the creation of Holmes, see the detailed ‘Introduction’ in The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes.

2. The original name of Dr Watson was Ormond Sacker. In the early drafts for plot outlines, Doyle has Holmes’s friend and sidekick named ‘Ormond Sacker’ rather than the altogether more common and humdrum John Watson. Doyle must have realised that Watson’s everyman status was better served by a more down-to-earth and usual name, and altered it. Which brings us to our second fact …

3. Dr Watson’s first name was John – except for one story. In ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, one of the early adventures, Watson’s wife Mary refers to her husband as ‘James’. Dorothy L. Sayers, another distinguished crime writer, speculated that this was in reference to ‘Hamish’, which may be what the ‘H.’ of ‘John H. Watson’ is for (Doyle never reveals what the name in fact stands for, and indeed Watson’s first name is only mentioned three times in the 60 novels and stories).

4. Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, once bowled out cricketing legend W. G. Grace. Conan Doyle played ten matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club or MCC, and although it wasn't exactly a distinguished cricketing career, its highlight was undoubtedly the match in which Doyle managed to take a first-class wicket – the batsman being none other than W. G. Grace.

5. The first Sherlock Holmes novel was something of a flop. The detective made his debut in the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887), written by a twenty-seven-year-old Doyle in just three weeks. Doyle wrote the book while he was running a struggling doctor’s surgery down in Portsmouth. The novel was rejected by many publishers and eventually published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. It didn't sell well, and more or less sank without trace.

6. The second Sherlock Holmes novel was the result of a dinner party with Oscar Wilde. Joseph Stoddart convinced Doyle, at a dinner party in 1889, to write a second novel featuring the detective in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Wilde, who was also present, also agreed to write a novel for the magazine – his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which appeared in 1890, the same year as The Sign of the Four, Doyle’s novel.

7. Sherlock Holmes didn’t wear a deerstalker. Much. The famous image of Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat is a product of the celebrated images which accompanied the short stories, which appeared in the Strand magazine from 1891.

8. The first parody of Sherlock Holmes was written by the creator of Peter Pan. J. M. Barrie  wrote a pastiche of Holmes in 1893, some ten years before he created the boy who would not grow up. What’s odd about Barrie’s parody, titled ‘The Late Sherlock Holmes’, is that it shows the police investigating the death of Holmes (they believe that Watson has killed him for money). 

9. Dr Watson narrated all of the Sherlock Holmes stories? Not exactly. He narrates nearly all of them, but not quite all – four of the stories are not narrated by Watson. Of these four, two are told in the third person, and two, ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’ and ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’, are actually told by Holmes himself.

10. Sherlock Holmes is the most-filmed fictional character. According to IMDb, Holmes has appeared in 226 films and been played by dozens of different actors since the advent of cinema in the late nineteenth century.

11. Sherlock Holmes is not the most-filmed fictional character. That is, not if you include non-humans (or partial humans). Dracula has been filmed more times than the great sleuth, at 239 times, but since Dracula is part-man, part-vampire, Holmes is the most-filmed fully human character.

12. Sherlock Holmes didn’t make deductions. At least, not most of the time. Instead, and if we want to be technically accurate, he used the logical process known as abduction. The difference between deductive and abductive reasoning is that the latter is based more on inference from observation, where the conclusion drawn may not always necessarily be true. However, in deduction, the conclusion drawn from the available data is always necessarily true. But then again, since Holmes’s reasoning always seems to be correct, perhaps it is deduction after all!

13. Conan Doyle wrote other stories featuring Sherlock Holmes which aren’t part of the ‘canon’. These include ‘The Field Bazaar’ (1896) and ‘How Watson Learned the Trick’ (1924). ‘The Field Bazaar’ was written after Doyle had ‘killed off’ Holmes but before he brought the detective back in ‘The Empty House’.

14. Holmes never says ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’. Not in the ‘canon’ of original Conan Doyle novels and stories. Holmes says ‘Elementary!’ and ‘my dear Watson’ at various points, but the idea of putting them together was a later meme, which possibly arose because it neatly conveys Holmes’s effortless superiority to his ‘dear’ friend and foil. The first recorded use of this exact phrase is actually in a P. G. Wodehouse novel of 1915, Psmith, Journalist.

15. The Mark Haddon bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, took its title from a Sherlock Holmes story. The phrase appears in ‘Silver Blaze’, one of the most popular Holmes stories. Inspector Gregory asks Holmes, ‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’ Holmes replies: ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’ 

16. The Sherlock Holmes Museum both is and isn’t at 221B Baker Street. Although the museum in London bears the official address ’221B’, in line with the celebrated address from the stories, the museum’s building lies between 237 and 241 Baker Street, making it physically – if not officially – at number 239.

17.  Much of the popular image of Holmes was the result of William Gillette. Gillette, an American actor, portrayed Holmes in over 1,300 stage performances and in a 1916 film (now sadly lost). He wore the deerstalker cap on stage – thus helping further to cement the notion, begun largely with the illustrations, that Holmes frequently wore the hat – and was responsible for popularising the image of Holmes smoking the curved briar pipe.

18. Before he created Sherlock Holmes, Doyle helped to create the modern mystery surrounding the Mary Celeste. Before he had conceived and written the first Sherlock Holmes novel, Doyle was already writing other mysteries – which drew on real life. In 1884, Doyle wrote a short story, ‘J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement’, which was published anonymously in the Cornhill magazine, about the Mary Celeste, the British-American merchant ship which was discovered abandoned in the Atlantic in 1872.

19. The very first film adaptation to feature Holmes, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, was made in 1900. This short film is just 30 seconds in duration.  Nobody knows the identity of the actor who played Holmes.

 20. There’s more to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than Sherlock Holmes. Much more, in fact. Among other achievements, his legal campaigning led to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal. He was knighted for his journalistic work during the Second Boer War, not for his achievements in fiction, law, or medicine. We owe the word ‘grimpen’ to him (from Grimpen Mire, in The Hound of the Baskervilles). He wrote historical novels (such as The White Company and Sir Nigel, set during the fourteenth century) which he prized more highly than his detective fiction. Winston Churchill agreed, and was a devoted fan of the historical novels. Doyle also wrote science fiction romances, such as The Lost World (1912), which would inspire Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and, subsequently, Steven Spielberg’s film (the sequel to the novel and film being named, in homage to Doyle, The Lost World). Doyle also took up legal causes himself.

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