Building Sherlock

We all love Sherlock Holmes. From board games to comic strips to legitimate fan fiction, the pipe-smoking, violin-playing private detective has captured our hearts. In honor of the release of the new series of Sherlock, I am attempting to deduce what about this character we find so enthralling.

In 1890, Arthur Conan Doyle published a short detective story entitled A Study in Scarlet, which introduced the public to an eccentric detective named Sherlock Holmes. The story became wildly popular, much to Doyle’s surprise, mainly because of the character he had created. He went on to write sixty more stories featuring Sherlock, including “The Final Problem”, in which he killed off the character in 1893, only to resurrect him ten years later due to popular outrage. To Conan Doyle, Holmes was mainly a distraction, as he wrote to his mother in 1891, keeping him from greater things. However, it is as the creator of his beloved detective character that he is best remembered.

Ever since the first story about Sherlock Holmes was written, nearly any story about him has sold extremely well. Holmes is one of the most recognizable faces of fiction, along with the likes of Darth Vader, Mickey Mouse, and Hamlet. But why is this the case? What about him captures our collective imaginations?

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Sherlock Holmes is his predictability. Throughout his entire literary career, he remains unchanged. When we turn on the television or flip through one of his books, we know exactly what to expect: the precision of his deduction, the astuteness of his observation, and the coldness of his personality. There’s a familiarity to every new adaptation, like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

Another aspect of Sherlock that captivates us is his incredible skill at observation. He can tell at a passing glance a person’s occupation, where they live, and sometimes even their ancestry. Arthur Conan Doyle based Holmes on an actual surgeon who mentored him as a medical student – Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell, like Holmes, was renowned for his astute powers of perception and calculated, scientific approach to life. These qualities captivated the young Doyle, who created Sherlock as a sort of tribute to his teacher. Perhaps it is his eccentricities which engage us and mirror, to a lesser degree, our own personal quirks.

Sherlock Holmes has enriched our lives and our minds since his creation in 1890, and he will continue to do so as long as writers remain faithful to convey the same character we have all grown to love.

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