Learn more about Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who first appeared in publication in 1887. He was devised by Scottish author and doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based detective, Holmes is famous for his prowess at using logic and astute observation to solve cases. He is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and universally recognizable literary characters.
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring his creation. Almost all were narrated by Holmes' friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson, with the exception of two narrated by Holmes himself and two more written in the third person. The stories first appeared in magazine serialisation, notably in The Strand, over a period of forty years. This was a common form of publication at the time: Charles Dickens' works were issued in a similar fashion. The stories cover a period from around 1878 up to 1903, with a final case in 1914. They are read as much for their characterisation and the stylised late-Victorian world in which they take place as for the mysteries themselves.
More actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes than any other character, and by 1964, according to a report in The Times, the worldwide sales of the stories were running second only to the Bible.
Sherlock Holmes described himself as a "consulting detective," an expert brought into cases too difficult for other (typically official) investigators; we are told that he can often solve a problem without leaving his home. Naturally, this aspect is minimized in the stories, which tend to focus on the more interesting cases that require actual legwork. He specializes in solving unusual cases using his extraordinary powers of observation and logical reasoning, and frequently demonstrates these abilities to new clients by making on-the-spot deductions about their personalities and recent activities. This simple marketing strategy rarely fails to impress and build confidence in his services (see below).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credited the conception of Holmes to his teacher at the medical school of Edinburgh University, the gifted surgeon and forensic detective, Joseph Bell (forensic science being a relatively new field at the time). However, some years later Bell wrote to Conan Doyle, "You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it" (Baring-Gould, p. 8). Holmes was named after Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom Conan Doyle admired, and an English cricketer named Sherlock — however, some early notes give his name as Sherrinford Holmes and Shelling Ford. However, the source of the name "Sherlock" may have been a family connection. Conan Doyle's grandmother was named Jane Sherlock.
 Appearance and physical profile
Holmes is generally depicted in various media as wearing a deerstalker hat and cloak, smoking a pipe and clutching a magnifying glass. Indeed, this image is arguably one of the most instantly recognisable and famous aspects of the character, and the deerstalker remains an instantly recognisable symbol for a detective character. However, this was not the invention of Conan Doyle (who only ever referred to Holmes wearing a 'travelling cap' in the original stories, and then only when his investigations took him into the countryside), but of the artist of the stories, Sidney Paget. Furthermore, contrary to many filmed depictions, Holmes is a fashion conscious man and would never wear exclusive country clothes like the deerstalker in the city which would have been an embarrassing fashion faux pas in his time.
Holmes is described as a tall, lean gentleman with sharp, piercing silver grey eyes and an aquiline nose. Evidence in "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" and "The Adventure of the Three Students" suggests that Holmes is exactly 6' in height. His hair is black, and he is almost always clean-shaven.
Despite his lean build, he is quite physically capable. He is a skillful boxer and fencer, and usually gets the better of his opponents in the (relatively) rare times in the stories that he has to engage in physical combat. He states in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" that he is "exceptionally strong in the fingers," which he demonstrates with his ability to unbend a metal poker in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." In "The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes mentions that he has "some knowledge" of "baritsu", "the Japanese system of wrestling", by which means he escaped his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty.
 His knowledge and skills
In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, something of Holmes' background is given. On March 5, 1881 he is presented as an independent student of chemistry with a variety of very curious side-interests, almost all of which turn out to be single-mindedly bent towards making him superior at solving crimes. In another early story, "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", more background on what caused Holmes to become a detective is presented: a college friend's father complimented him very highly on his deductive skills.
In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson makes an evaluation of Sherlock's skills:
Sherlock Holmes—his limits
- Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Politics.—Feeble.
- Knowledge of Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology.—Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
- Knowledge of Chemistry.—Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Later stories make clear, however, that the above list is misleading, and that Holmes — who has just met Watson — is pulling Watson's leg. Two examples: despite Holmes' supposed ignorance of politics, in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognizes the true identity of the supposed Count von Kramm. Regarding non-sensational literature, his speech is replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and even Goethe. This is somewhat inconsistent with his scolding Watson for telling him about how the Earth revolved around the Sun, instead of the other way around, given that Holmes tried to avoid having his memory cluttered with information that is of no use to him in detective work.
Holmes is also a competent cryptanalyst. He relates to Watson, "I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writing, and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon the subject, in which I analyse one hundred and sixty separate ciphers." One such scheme is solved in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" which uses a series of stick figures, for example:
In A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle presents a comparison between his sleuth and two earlier, more established fictional detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. The former had first appeared in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first published in 1841, and the latter in L'Affaire Lerouge (The Lerouge Affair) in 1866. The brief discussion between Watson and Holmes about the two characters begins with a comment by Watson:
"You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."
Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."
"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked."Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"
Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took six months or so. It might be made a textbook for detectives to teach them what to avoid."
Holmes seems convinced that he is superior to both of them, while Watson expresses his admiration of the two characters. It has been suggested that this was a way for Conan Doyle to pay some respect to characters by writers who had influenced him, while insisting that his is an improvement over them. However, Holmes pulls a very Dupin-esque trick on Watson in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" (repeated word for word in the story, "The Resident Patient," when "Cardboard Box" was removed from the Memoirs), and, to a lesser extent, in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".
Holmes has shown himself a master of disguise:
- A seaman (The Sign of Four)
- A groom and a clergyman ("A Scandal in Bohemia")
- An opium addict ("The Man with the Twisted Lip")
- A common loafer ("The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet")
- An old Italian priest ("The Adventure of the Final Problem")
- A bookseller ("The Adventure of the Empty House")
- A plumber ("The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton")
- A dying man ("The Adventure of the Dying Detective")
It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
Holmes could be looked upon then as the forerunner of modern forensic sciences:
- The use of footprints, shoe prints, horseshoe prints, carriage wheel tracks, and bicycle tracks to identify actions at a crime scene (A Study in Scarlet, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", "The Adventure of the Priory School")
- The use of tobacco ashes and cigarette butts to identify criminals ("The Adventure of the Resident Patient", The Hound of the Baskervilles)
- The use of typewritten letters to expose a fraud ("A Case of Identity")
- The deduction of murder from two pieces of human remains ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box")
- The observation of gunpowder residue on victim ("The Adventure of the Reigate Squire")
- The observation of use of bullets from murder weapon from two crime scenes ("The Adventure of the Empty House")
- The use of a fingerprint to free an innocent man ("The Adventure of the Norwood Builder") (an especially subtle case, as Holmes recognises the fingerprint as a forgery)
In "The Adventure of the Second Stain", Dr. Watson says that after his long career, Holmes moved to Sussex Downs and took up bee farming.
 His personality and habits
However, Holmes is not at all a stuffy straight-laced Victorian gentleman; in fact, he describes himself and his habits as "Bohemian." He may suffer from bipolar disorder, alternating between days or weeks of listless lassitude and similar periods of intense engagement with a challenging case or with his hobby, experimental chemistry: "extreme exactness and astuteness... [or a] poetic and contemplative mood", "outbursts of passionate energy... followed by reactions of lethargy." Modern readers of the Holmes stories are apt to be surprised that he was an occasional user (a habitual user when lacking in stimulating cases) of cocaine and morphine, though Watson describes this as Holmes' "only vice". But, as recorded in one of the last stories, Watson was gradually able to convince Holmes to discontinue the use of these drugs:
"For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead, but sleeping."
Typically of his time, Watson did not consider a vice Holmes' habit of smoking (usually a pipe) heavily, nor his willingness to bend the truth and break the law (e.g., lie to the police, conceal evidence, burgle and housebreak) when it suited his purposes. In Victorian England, such actions were not necessarily considered vices as long as they were done by a gentleman for noble purposes, such as preserving a woman's honour or a family's reputation (this argument is discussed by Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"). Since many of the stories revolve around Holmes (and Watson) doing such things, a modern reader must accept actions which would be out of character for a 'law-abiding' detective living by the standards of a later time. (They remain staples of detective fiction, being done in a good cause.) Holmes has a strong sense of honour and "doing the right thing".
Holmes can often be quite dispassionate and cold; however, when hot on the trail of a mystery, he can display a remarkable passion given his usual languor.
He has a flair for showsmanship, and often, he prepares dramatic traps to capture the culprit of a crime which are staged to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yard inspectors (as at the end of "The Norwood Builder"). He also holds back on his chain of reasoning, not revealing it or only giving cryptic hints and surprising results, until the very end, when he can explain all of his deductions at once.
Holmes does have an ego that sometimes seems to border on arrogance; however, his arrogance is usually deserved. He seems to enjoy baffling the police inspectors with his superior deductions. Holmes is usually quite content to allow the police to take the credit for his work, with Watson being the only one to broadcast his own roles in the case (in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", he remarks that of his last fifty-three cases, the police have had all the credit in forty-nine), although he enjoys receiving praise from personal friends and those who take a serious interest in his work. In addition, his comfortable residence at 221B Baker St. suggests he has a good income from his business, although it is never revealed exactly how much he charges for his services.
Holmes is generally quite fearless. He dispassionately surveys horrific, brutal crime scenes; he does not allow superstition (as in "The Hound of the Baskervilles") or grotesque situations to make him afraid; and he intrepidly confronts violent murderers. He is generally unfazed by threats from his criminal enemies, and indeed Holmes himself remarks that it is the danger of his profession that has attracted him to it.
 His possessions
Besides fees, Holmes also has souvenirs from his cases:
- A black pearl and a shattered bust of Napoleon Bonaparte ("The Six Napoleons")
- A gold sovereign from Irene Adler on his watch chain ("A Scandal in Bohemia")
- A photograph of Irene Adler ("A Scandal in Bohemia")
- An old gold snuff box with an amethyst from the King of Bohemia. ("A Case of Identity")
- A ring from the ruling family of Holland ("A Case of Identity")
- A crumpled piece of paper; a key; a peg of wood with string and three old coins ("The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual")
- An emerald tie-pin from Queen Victoria. ("The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans")
- A Stradivarius violin. ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box")
 Holmes, Watson and firearms
Although on occasion Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them (see also Dr. Watson's revolver), there are only three times when these weapons are fired:
- They both fire at the Andaman Islander in The Sign of Four.
- They both fire at the hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles
- Watson fires at the mastiff in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches".
- Watson pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran in "The Adventure of the Empty House".
Besides a pistol, Holmes uses a riding crop as a weapon:
- To knock the pistol from John Clay's hand in "The Red-Headed League".
- To lash out at the snake in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band".
 People in his life
Historically, Holmes lived from the year 1881 at 221B Baker Street, London, an upper-story flat (in early notes it was described as being situated at Upper Baker Street), where he spent many of his professional years with his good friend, Dr. Watson, and with whom he shared rooms for some time before Watson's marriage in 1890. The residence was maintained by his landlady, Mrs Hudson.
In many of the stories, Holmes is assisted by the practical Watson, who is not only a friend but also his chronicler (his "Boswell"). Most of Holmes' stories are told as narratives, by Watson, of the detective's solutions to actual crimes. In some later stories, Holmes criticizes Watson for his writings, usually because he relates them as exciting stories rather than as objective and detailed reports focusing on what Holmes regards as the pure "science" of Holmes' craft.
Holmes also has an older brother, Mycroft Holmes, who appears in three stories: "The Greek Interpreter", "The Final Problem", and "The Bruce-Partington Plans". He is also mentioned in a number of others, including "The Empty House".
Law enforcement officers with whom Holmes has worked include G. Lestrade, Tobias Gregson, Stanley Hopkins, and Athelney Jones, all four of Scotland Yard, and Francois Le Villard of the French police. Holmes usually baffles the police with his far more efficient and effective methods, showing himself to be a vastly superior detective.
Holmes' arch-enemy and popularly-supposed nemesis was Professor James Moriarty ("the Napoleon of Crime"), who fell, struggling with Holmes, over the Reichenbach Falls. Conan Doyle intended "The Final Problem", the story in which this occurred, to be the last that he wrote about Holmes. However, the mass of mailings he received demanding that he bring back his creation convinced him to continue. "The Adventure of the Empty House" had Conan Doyle explaining that only Moriarty fell over the cliff, but Holmes had allowed the world to believe that he too had perished while he dodged the retribution of Moriarty's underlings. Also, numerous sources claim that Moriarty was initially Holmes' mathematics tutor, as is also referenced in the work of Baring-Gould.
 Holmes and women
The only woman in whom Holmes ever showed any interest that verged on the romantic was Irene Adler. According to Watson, she was always referred to by Holmes as "The Woman." Holmes himself never uses this term — though he does mention her actual name several times in other cases. She is also one of the few women who are mentioned in multiple Holmes stories, though she is actually only in one, "A Scandal in Bohemia". She is often thought to be the only woman who broke through Holmes' reserve. She is possibly the only woman who has ever "beaten" Holmes in a mystery; this point is unclear due to a comment with some chronological problems in one of the stories (see the Irene Adler or The Five Orange Pips articles for details).
In one story, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Holmes is engaged to be married, but only with the motivation of gaining information for his case.
He clearly demonstrates particular interest in several of the more charming female clients that come his way (such as Violet Hunter of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", whom Watson thought might become more than a client to Holmes). However, the context implies that Holmes found their youth, beauty, and energy (and the cases they bring to him) invigorating, as opposed to an actual romantic interest, as Holmes inevitably "manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems."
If he was able to turn on a certain amount of charm, as indicated by these episodes, there is no indication of a serious or long-term interest apart from the case of Adler. Watson states that Holmes has an "aversion to women" but "a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]." Holmes stated "I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind." His dislike may have stemmed from the fact he found "the motives of women... so inscrutable... How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes... their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin." This resistance to his deductive processes may have annoyed him. On the other hand, it may be noted that the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, is never actually described.
Watson, on the other hand, has a perhaps justifiable reputation as a ladies' man, boasting in The Sign of Four of "an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents." In addition, he speaks favourably of some women — indeed, in virtually all the longer stories he remarks on the exceptional beauty of at least one female character — and actually married one, Mary Morstan of The Sign of Four.
 Holmesian (or Sherlockian) deduction
"From a drop of water", Holmes wrote in an essay described in A Study in Scarlet, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other." Holmes stories often begin with a bravura display of Holmes' talent for "deduction". It is of some interest to logicians and those interested in logic to try to analyse just what Holmes is doing when he performs his deduction. Holmesian (the British adjective; Americans may be rarely heard to say "Sherlockian") deduction appears to consist primarily of drawing inferences based on either straightforward practical principles — which are the result of careful inductive study, such as Holmes' study of different kinds of cigar ashes — or inference to the best explanation. In many cases, the deduction can be modelled either way. In 2002, Holmes was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry — the only fictional character so honoured — in appreciation of the contributions to forensic investigation.<ref>This news article mentions Holmes' honour at the bottom of the page.</ref>
Holmes's straightforward practical principles are generally of the form, "If 'p', then 'q'," where 'p' is observed evidence and 'q' is what the evidence indicates. But there are also, as one may observe in the following example, often some intermediate principles. In "A Scandal in Bohemia" Holmes deduces that Watson had got very wet lately and that he had "a most clumsy and careless servant girl." When Watson, in amazement, asks how Holmes knows this, Holmes answers:
"It is simplicity itself... My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey."
In this case, we might say Holmes employed several connected principles such as these:
- If leather on the side of a shoe is scored by several parallel cuts, it was caused by someone who scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud.
- If a 19th-century London doctor's shoes are scraped to remove crusted mud, the person who so scraped them is the doctor's servant girl.
- If someone cuts a shoe while scraping it to remove encrusted mud, that person is clumsy and careless.
- If someone's shoes had encrusted mud on them, that person has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.
By applying such principles in an obvious way (using repeated applications of modus ponens), Holmes is able to infer from
- 'p': The sides of Watson's shoes are scored by several parallel cuts.
- 'q1': Watson's servant girl is clumsy and careless.
- 'q2': Watson has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.
But perhaps Holmes is not giving a proper explanation — after all, Holmes may be well aware of Watson's servant girl. As Watson is a doctor and it has been raining, it is likely he has been out in the rain.
In other instances of Holmesian deduction, it is more difficult to model his inference as deduction using general principles, and logicians and scientists will readily recognize the method used, instead, as an "inductive" one — in particular, "argument to the best explanation", or, in Charles S. Peirce's terminology, "abduction". However, that Holmes should have called this "deduction" is entirely plausible.
The instances in which Holmes uses deduction tend to be those where he has amassed a large body of evidence, produced a number of possible explanations of that evidence, and then proceeds to find one explanation that is clearly the best at explaining the evidence. For example, in The Sign of Four, a man is found dead in his room, with a ghastly smile on his face, and with no immediately visible cause of death. From a whole body of background information as well as evidence gathered at and around the scene of the crime, Holmes is able to infer that the murderer is not one of the various people that Scotland Yard has in custody (each of them being an alternative explanation), but rather another person entirely. As Holmes says in the story, "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" This phrase has entered Western popular culture as a catchphrase. It also turned up in the Dirk Gently stories by Douglas Adams where the detective uses the opposite phrase, "because we know very much about what is improbable, but very little about what is possible".
In the latter example, in fact, Holmes' solution of the crime depends both on a series of applications of general principles and argument to the best explanation.
Holmes' success at his brand of deduction, therefore, is due to his mastery of both a huge body of particular knowledge of things like footprints, cigar ashes, and poisons, which he uses to make relatively simple deductive inferences, and the fine art of ordering and weighing different competing explanations of a body of evidence. Holmes is also particularly good at gathering evidence by observation, as well locating and tracking the movements of criminals through the streets of London and its environs (in order to produce more evidence) — skills that have little to do with deduction per se, but everything to do with providing the premises for particular Holmesian deductions. Four examples of Holmes' deductions of an owner's lifestyle are: Dr. Watson's old pocket watch in The Sign of Four, Dr. Mortimer's walking stick in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mr. Grant Munro's pipe in "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" and Henry Baker's hat in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle".
In the stories by Conan Doyle, Holmes often remarked that his logical conclusions were "elementary", in that he considered them to be simple and obvious. He also, on occasion, referred to his friend as "my dear Watson". However, the complete phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson", does not appear in any of the 60 Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle. It does appear at the very end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first Sherlock Holmes sound film, and may owe its familiarity to its use in Edith Meiser's scripts for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio series.
It should be noted too, that our modern stereotype of police procedure — someone who looks for physical clues, rather than someone who examines opportunity and motive — comes from Holmes.
As mentioned in the Overview section above, Conan Doyle was an admirer of Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1858, Holmes had written, in his Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, “Tell me about Cuvier’s getting up a megatherium from a tooth … so all a man’s antecedents and possibilities are summed up in a single utterance….” This recalls what Schopenhauer had written in 1851, “Just as a botanist recognizes the whole plant from one leaf and Cuvier constructed the entire animal from one bone, so from one characteristic action of a man we can arrive at a correct knowledge of his character.” (Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. II, §118) These assertions are echoed in The Five Orange Pips, in which Sherlock Holmes declared, “As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to state all the other ones, before and after.”
Readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories have often been surprised to discover that their author, Conan Doyle, was a fervent believer in paranormal phenomena, and that the logical, sceptical character of Holmes was in opposition to his own in many ways.
The word "Sherlock" has entered the language to mean a detective or nosy person.
It must be noted that, in Holmesian deduction, it is important to attempt to eliminate all other possibilities, or as many as possible. This requires quite a bit of practice to reach. Watson attempts several times to perform Holmesian deductions, and even gives his explanations. However, he fails to recognize other equally probable circumstances, and is wrong on almost every count.
- A Study in Scarlet (serialized 1887)
- The Sign of the Four (published 1890)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialized 1901–1902 in The Strand; original illustrations by Sidney Paget
- The Valley of Fear (serialized 1914–1915) (briefly involves Professor Moriarty)
 Short stories
For more detail see List of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories.
The short stories were originally published in periodicals; they were later gathered into five anthologies:
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Contains stories published 1891–1892 in The Strand.
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes Contains stories published 1892–1893 in The Strand as further episodes of the Adventures.
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes Contains stories published 1903–1904 in The Strand.
- His Last Bow Contains stories published 1908–1913 and 1917.
- The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes Contains stories published 1921–1927.
 Lists of favourite stories
There are two famous lists of favourite stories: that of Conan Doyle himself, in 1927, and that of the Baker Street Journal in 1959.
Conan Doyle's list:
- "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
- "The Red-Headed League"
- "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
- "The Adventure of the Final Problem"
- "A Scandal in Bohemia"
- "The Adventure of the Empty House"
- "The Five Orange Pips"
- "The Adventure of the Second Stain"
- "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
- "The Adventure of the Priory School"
- "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"
- "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire"
The Baker Street Journal's list:
- "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
- "The Red-Headed League"
- "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
- "The Adventure of Silver Blaze"
- "A Scandal in Bohemia"
- "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"
- "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
- "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
- "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
- "The Adventure of the Empty House"
 The hiatus
Holmes fans refer to the period from 1891 to 1894 — the time between Holmes' disappearance and presumed death in "The Adventure of the Final Problem" and his reappearance in "The Adventure of the Empty House" — as "the Great Hiatus". It is notable, though, that one later story ("The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge") is described as taking place in 1892.
Conan Doyle wrote the stories over the course of a decade. Wanting to devote more time to his historical novels, he killed off Holmes in "The Final Problem", which appeared in print in 1893. After resisting public pressure for eight years, the author wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, which appeared in 1901, setting it before Holmes' "death". The public, while pleased with the story, was not satisfied with a posthumous Holmes, and so Conan Doyle resuscitated Holmes two years later. Many have speculated on his motives for bringing Holmes back to life, notably writer-director Nicholas Meyer, who wrote an essay on the subject in the 1970s, but the actual reasons are not known, other than the obvious: publishers offered to pay generously. For whatever reason, Conan Doyle continued to write Holmes stories for a quarter-century longer.
Some writers have come up with alternate explanations for the hiatus. In Meyer's novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the hiatus was explained as a secret sabbatical that Holmes indulged in for those years after his drug rehabilitation treatment with Sigmund Freud's help, while he light-heartedly suggested that Watson write a fictitious account claiming he had died: "They'll never believe you in any case."
John Kendrick Bangs, creator of Bangsian fantasy, wrote a book in 1897 called Pursuit of the House-Boat (a sequel to his A House-Boat on the Styx, in which the souls of famous dead people start up a club in Hades). In it, the house-boat (which was hijacked at the end of A House-Boat on the Styx by Captain Kidd) is tracked down by the members of the club with the aid of none other than Sherlock Holmes — who is indeed dead.
In his memoirs, Conan Doyle quotes a reader, who judged the later stories inferior to the earlier ones, to the effect that when Holmes went over the Reichenbach Falls, he may not have been killed, but he was never quite the same man after.
The differences in the pre- and post-Hiatus Holmes has in fact created speculation among those who play 'The Game' (making one believe Sherlock Holmes was a historical person). Among the more interesting and plausible theories: the later Holmes was in fact an imposter (perhaps even Professor Moriarty), the later stories were fictions created to fill other writers' pockets (this is often used to deal with the stories which supposedly are written by Holmes himself), and Holmes and Professor Moriarty were in fact a variation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Among the more fanciful theories, the story The Case of the Detective's Smile by Mark Bourne, published in the anthology Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, posits that one of the places Holmes visited during his hiatus was Alice's Wonderland. While there, he solved the case of the stolen tarts, and his experiences there contributed to his kicking the cocaine addiction.
 Canonical adaptations
As Sherlock Holmes is such a popular character, there have been many theatrical stage and cinematic adaptations of Conan Doyle's work — much in the same way that Hamlet or Dracula are often revised and adapted.
 Related and derivative works (non-canonical)
In addition to the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle's The Lost Special (1908) features an unnamed 'amateur reasoner' clearly intended to be identified as Holmes by his readers. His explanation for a baffling disappearance, argued in Holmes' characteristic style, turns out to be quite wrong — evidently Conan Doyle was not above poking fun at his own hero. A short story by Conan Doyle using the same idea is "The Man with the Watches". Another example of Conan Doyle's humour is "How Watson Learned the Trick" (1924), a parody of the frequent Watson-Holmes breakfast table scenes. A further parody by Conan Doyle is "The Field Bazaar". He also wrote other material, especially plays, featuring Holmes. Many of these writings are collected in the books "Sherlock Holmes; The Published Apocrypha," edited by Jack Tracy and "The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," edited by Peter Haining.
Sherlock Holmes' abilities as both a good fighter and as an excellent logician have been a boon to other authors who have lifted his name, or details of his exploits, for their plots. These range from Holmes as a cocaine addict, whose drug-fuelled fantasies lead him to cast an innocent Professor Moriarty as a supervillain (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), to science-fiction plots involving him being re-animated after death to fight crime in the future (Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century). Challenged to create a comedy about Sherlock Holmes, filmmaker Gene Wilder wrote, directed and starred in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.
A common setting for non canon pieces pits Holmes and Watson against the Nazis. Most notable were the films made during the Second World War starring Basil Rathbone, but more recently The Curse of the Nibelung: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. Such pieces were in the spirit of Conan Doyle's patriotism, and indeed the canonic "His Last Bow" describes Holmes and his connections with British Intelligence on the eve of the First World War.
In 2006, best-selling author and military historian Caleb Carr (perhaps best known for The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, both featuring Holmes-reminiscent protagonist Laszlo Kreizler) penned The Italian Secretary, a "continuing adventure of Sherlock Holmes." Dr. John Watson and Mycroft Holmes play significant parts in this story, and other follow-on/related works (including, but not limited to, a Holmes/Kreizler crossover) may be forthcoming.
It is also common for writers to pit Holmes against other well-known fictional characters originating from or set in the same era as Conan Doyle's stories - particularly those who now exist in the public domain, and so can be used freely without payment of royalties to the creator. In these crossovers, Holmes has frequently interacted with Dr. Fu Manchu (in Cay Van Ash's Ten Years Beyond Baker Street), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (in Loren Eastman's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes) and Dracula (In Loren Eastman's Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula). He has also appeared as a significant (although often unseen) background presence in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and also Planetary by Warren Ellis.
Other writers have Holmes meeting real people and participating in real events. In Nicholas Meyer's works, Holmes meets Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Bram Stoker, among other Victorian celebrities. In Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon, Minnesota journalist Larry Millett involves Holmes and Watson in the Great Hinckley Fire; their employer is railroad magnate James J. Hill, and they also meet Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth. And on at least four occasions (Edward B. Hanna's novel The Whitechapel Horrors, Michael Didbin's novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, and the movies A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree) Holmes gets involved in the Jack the Ripper case.
 Holmesian speculation
A popular pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes is to pretend that Holmes and Watson were real people, and Arthur Conan Doyle merely Watson's "literary agent," and to attempt to "discover" new facts about them, either from clues in the stories or by combining the stories with historical fact. Early scholars of the canon included Ronald Knox and Christopher Morley, founder of The Baker Street Irregulars.
When a student at Oxford, Knox issued Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes, an essay which is regarded as the founding text of "holmesian scholarship".
That essay was re-printed, among others, in 1928 and the following year, Sydney Roberts, then professor at Cambridge University, issued a reply to Knox's arguments, in a booklet entitled A Note on the Watson Problem. S.C. Roberts issued then a complete Watson biography. A book by T.S. Blakeney followed and the holmesian "game" was born.
In 1934 were founded the Sherlock Holmes Society, in London, and the Baker Street Irregulars, in New York. Both are stil active to-day (but the Sherlock Holmes Society has been dissolved in 1937 to be ressuscitated only in 1951).
Dorothy Sayers, creator of the detective Lord Peter Wimsey, also wrote several essays on Holmesian speculation, later published in Unpopular Opinions, including an interesting discussion of Watson's middle name.
While Dorothy Sayers and many of the early "holmesians" used the works of Conan Doyle as the chief basis for their speculations, a more fanciful school of playing the historical-Holmes game is represented by William S. Baring-Gould, author of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1962), a personal "biography" of Holmes; and Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street (1969), a "biography" of Rex Stout's detective character, Nero Wolfe, which popularized the theory that Wolfe was "really" the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, Wolfe being much like Holmes' brother Mycroft.
Baring-Gould also edited The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (1967), which combines in two volumes the complete canon and a hundred thousand words of additional explanation and illustration drawn from the Holmesian literature. In 2004 and 2005 a three-volume The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes was published, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Holmes (often given as January 6,<ref>Holmesian scholars who cite this date do so because Holmes quotes from the Twelfth Night more often than from any other Shakespeare play.</ref> 1854) and "reflect the spectrum of views on Sherlockian controversies" rather than "Baring-Gould's personal theories".
 Holmes and Nietzsche
There is also the idea that many characters in the Sherlock Holmes stories were based heavily on real people, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche (who may have been the model for Holmes himself and Professor Moriarty), and that Conan Doyle borrowed from other writers, as many other writers have done. Samuel Rosenberg, in his Naked is the Best Disguise, details the striking references to Nietzsche in the Holmes stories. There is also strong belief that Holmes was based on one George Vale Owen. Owen was a scholar who worked with Conan Doyle, and became a close friend of his.
 The Holmes family
A particularly-rich area of "research" is the "uncovering" of details about Holmes' family history and early life, of which almost nothing is said in Conan Doyle's stories. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Watson states: "I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his early life." But in that story, as well as introducing his brother, Holmes mentions the only facts about his family that are in any of the stories — "My ancestors were country squires... my grandmother... was the sister of Vernet, the French artist" (presumably Horace Vernet). Beyond this, all familial statements are speculation. For example, there is a certain belief that his mother was named Violet, based on Conan Doyle's fondness for the name and the four strong Violets in the canon; however, as Baring-Gould noted, in Holmes' Britain, Violet was a very common name.
It is clear from references to "the university" in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", and to some degree "The Adventure of the Three Students", that Holmes attended Oxford or Cambridge, although the question of which one remains a topic of eternal debate (Baring-Gould believed textual evidence indicated that Holmes attended both).
The most influential "biography" of Holmes is Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Baring-Gould. Faced with Holmes's reticence about his family background and early life, Baring-Gould invented one for him. According to Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes was born in Yorkshire, the youngest of three sons of Siger Holmes and Violet Sherrinford. The middle brother, Mycroft, appears in the canon, but the eldest, Sherrinford Holmes, was invented by Baring-Gould to free Mycroft and Sherlock from the obligation of following Siger as a country squire. (In reality, "Sherrinford Holmes" was one of the names Arthur Conan Doyle considered for his hero before settling on Sherlock.) Siger Holmes' name is derived from "The Adventure of the Empty House", in which Sherlock spends some time pretending to be a Norwegian mountaineer called Sigerson. (This hardly qualifies as a clue about the name of Sherlock's father, but in the absence of any genuine clues it was the best Baring-Gould had to work with.)
Some other versions of Holmes' parentage:
- Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution reveals that his mother was cheating on his father, and so his father killed both his mother and himself. It also stipulates that it was his math professor, Professor Moriarty, who brought the news of the tragedy to young Sherlock. This not only explains his career choice, but also (in an appropriately Freudian manner) his hatred of Professor Moriarty.
- Ian Charnocks's Watson's Last Case names his father as Sherlock Holmes, Sr.
- Robert D'Artagnan's Sherlock Holmes's Last Case names his father as Mark Moriarty and gives Sherlock's true name as Joseph Moriarty, explaining that he was adopted at age four by Gregory C. Holmes and his wife Lydia Mycroft Holmes. This would make him a younger brother of Professor James Moriarty.
- Michael Harrison's I, Sherlock Holmes names his father as Captain Siger Holmes of the British East India Company.
- Cass Lewis's Dead Man's Confession names his father as Robert Holmes and his mother Carla "Violet" Holmes.
- Mona Morstein's The Childhood of Sherlock Holmes names his father as David William Holmes and his mother Catherine Simone Lecomte-Vernet.
- Fred Saberhagen's The Holmes-Dracula File gives his true father as the lover of Mrs. Holmes: The vampire Radu the Handsome, a younger brother of Vlad III Dracula, who had succeeded him as a ruler of Wallachia. This would make Sherlock a nephew of Dracula (against whom he was pitted in Loren D. Estleman's novel The Case of the Sanguinary Count).
- Christopher Leppek's The Surrogate Assassin named Sherlock's father as a younger brother of Mary Ann Holmes, a historical figure better known as the mother of John Wilkes Booth. This would make Sherlock a first cousin of Booth.
- Thaddeus Holt's "The Sixth Napoleon" identifies Holmes as great-grandson of Napoleon I, his father, the child of a secret marriage of Napoleon's son the Duke of Reichstadt, having been exchanged as a baby for the child who grew up to be Archduke Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico.
 The Holmes family and the Wold Newton family
Based originally on the writings of Philip José Farmer, the concept of the Wold Newton family is the construction of a giant genealogical tree which connects many fictional characters to each other and to a number of historical figures. Additions to this tree are based on the writings of the original creators, pastiche writers, and "Wold Newton scholars." Sherlock Holmes has been one of the central characters of this tree. The Holmes family and its various generations have been the subject of many Wold Newton articles. Sherlock himself has been described as born as William Sherlock Scott Holmes on January 6, 1854 to Siger Holmes and his wife Violet Rutherford. He was one of eight siblings, including Mycroft, whose descendants include many other characters. The detective has been given as the father of at least eight children, including Nero Wolfe. Sherlock Holmes is also thought by many to be an ancestor of Spock of Star Trek, through his mother, Amanda Grayson (Captain Spock attributes a Holmesian aphorism to an ancestor of his in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; since Holmes is a fictional character with respect to the Star Trek universe, it's more likely that the reference means that he is matrilineally related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Holmes is revealed to have a great grand-niece named Shirley Holmes in the television show of the same name. But of course, Conan Doyle himself never called his creation any more than "Sherlock Holmes" so everything else is pure speculation.
 The Societies
The two initial societies founded in 1934 were followed by many more holmesians cirles, first of all in America (where they are called "scions" societies of the Baker Street Irregulars), then in England and Denmark. Nowadays, there are holmesian societies in many countries, including a lot of them in Japan.
 The Museums
During the 1951 Festival of Britain, Sherlock Holmes's sitting-room was reconstructed as the masterpiece of a Sherlock Holmes Exhibition, displaying a unique collection of original material. After the 1951 exhibition closed, items were transferred to the Sherlock Holmes Pub, in London, and to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Lucens (Switzerland). Both exhibitions, each including its own very good Baker Street Sitting-Room reconstruction, are still to be seen today. More recent Sherlock Holmes Museums (complete with sitting-room)were opened in Baker Street itself (London) and in Meiringen (Switzerland), but those include less historical material about Conan Doyle.
- "My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know." ("The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle")
- "The air of London is sweeter for my presence." ("The Final Problem")
- "My brain has always governed my heart." ("The Sign of Four")
- "Love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment." ("The Sign of Four")
- "A man always finds it hard to realize that he may have finally lost a woman's love, however badly he may have treated her." ("The Musgrave Ritual")
- "When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. . . A married woman grabs at her baby - an unmarried one reaches for her jewel box." ("A Scandal in Bohemia")
- "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." ("The Boscombe Valley Mystery")
- "You can...never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant." ("The Sign of Four")
- "Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last." ("The Adventure of the Red Circle")
- "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." ("The Adventure of The Blanched Soldier")
- "I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule." ("The Sign of Four")
 Influence of Holmes
 Role in the history of the detective story
A popular misconception is that the Sherlock Holmes stories gave rise to the entire genre of detective fiction. In fact, the Holmes character and his modus operandi were inspired by two predecessors, C. Auguste Dupin and Monsieur Lecoq and their technique for solving crime. Created by Edgar Allan Poe and Émile Gaboriau respectively, they were both investigators to whom even Holmes himself alluded. Many fictional sleuths have imitated Holmes' logical methods and followed in his footsteps, in various ways. Some of the more popular to continue Holmes' legacy include Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Bobby Goren, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Perry Mason, Columbo, Dick Tracy, Adrian Monk, the children's book series Encyclopedia Brown, and even the comic book hero Batman. The long running Japanese manga and anime Detective Conan (released as Case Closed in English due to copyright issues) was also heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes, with the main character himself taking after Holmes' and giving himself a nickname based on Sir Arthur's middle name.
 Other pop culture references
Many writers have made references to Conan Doyle, or characters from the stories in homage, to a greater or lesser degree. Such allusions can form a plot development, raise the intellectual level of the piece or act as easter eggs for an observant audience.
Some have been overt, introducing Holmes as a character in a new setting, or a more subtle allusion, such as making a logical character live in an apartment at number 221b. Often the simplest reference is to dress anybody who does some kind of detective work in a deerstalker and cloak (as seen right). Another rich field of pop culture references is Holmes' ancestry and descendants (as discussed above) but really the only limit is the writer's imagination. A third major reference is the supposed quote, "Elementary, my dear Watson.". However Holmes is never recorded to have said this. The fame of Sherlock Holmes ensures that he will exist in many forms during the coming century, probably because Holmes embodies so many of the qualities that modern society feels are good, combined with the flashes of a darker personality (see especially Charles Augustus Milverton) that give him depth as a character.
- The Basil Rathbone Movie The Woman In Green is a combination of two Sherlock Holmes stories: The Adventure of the Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House.
- A commercial for the mystery board game Clue features Holmes and Watson as players. (Watson wins.)
- Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed fictional character on film, being played by no less than 75 actors in 211 movies since 1900.
- A character from the English dubbed version of Jikuu Tantei Genshi-kun, also known as Flint the Time Detective, was renamed from the original Japanese name of Kyoichiro Narugami (鳴神京一郎 Narugami Kyōichirō) to Merlock Holmes, in an obvious allusion to Holmes.
- Baring-Gould, William S. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York ISBN 0-517-50291-7 & John Murray Publishers, London
- Klinger, Leslie S. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York & London ISBN 0-393-05916-2