Why Don’t We Keep Sherlock Holmes Alive?

Sherlock Holmes
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In 1887, Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in The Strand Magazine; today, Holmes is a cultural phenomenon. From the original tales to our modern day leading men (and women), let’s take a look at the aspects of our favorite detective have remained timeless. No matter how you look at it, one thing is for certain: there’s something about Sherlock.

A quick Google Search will show you a list of nearly one hundred film and television adaptations starring the detective and his companion, Dr. Watson. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does give us some insight into how many different renditions there are. While my Holmesian heart would love to delve into all of these renditions, for simplicity’s sake, this time we will be sticking to some of our more modern adaptations to compare with the original literature. Of the many adaptations, there have been plenty of changes: ages, genders, locations, and even the era that these stories take place; but the essence of the stories stay the same.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes
Credit: Warner Brothers

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most likable qualities of any Sherlock Holmes tale is his Watson. They are two sides of the same coin, Watson being the heart of the operation while Holmes is the brain. Be it Nigel Bruce opposite Basil Rathbone in the earlier adaptations or our more recent Watsons (Jude Law, Martin Freeman, and Lucy Liu), each of them have wrangled their off-the-wall Holmes and played a crucial role in every case they’ve come across.

Truth be told, without Watson, there is no story. Consider Sir Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes, where Watson has left and married, leaving Holmes to his own devices. Ultimately leading Holmes to what he believes was his greatest failure, resulting in retirement. You simply cannot have a Sherlock without his Watson.

The Science Of Deduction For Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
Credit: CBS

Deduction is at the heart of the character. It is this ability is what draws audiences from around the world to Holmes. The audience doesn’t just watch or read to be entertained, they are looking to be amazed. In Elementary, we as the audience get to witness these deductions as anyone in a room with him would. This is similar to Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of the titular detective in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I believe that this method plays a nice homage to the original publications. They were written from Watson’s point of view. That being said, it doesn’t get the audience any closer to understanding how our leading man thinks since he isn’t one to hide what he thinks — just how he got there. In comparison, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal has a mix of verbal deductions and slow-motion scenes that allow the occasional insight into his head. We see a similar method in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, featuring a blend of visuals ranging from words to full images.

A Seven-Percent Solution

Sherlock Holmes
Credit: BBC

Sherlock Holmes is an addict. From his very conception to today, every adaptation that I have had the pleasure of watching has featured this trait. Maybe this is to show that even the greatest minds have a weakness or, maybe, the drug addiction mirrors his need for a case. All the same, this particular trait is never something that is cut out of his story. Another unbecoming trait that is consistent with every portrayal of Holmes, is his terribly abrasive personality. What he lacks in tact and empathy, he makes up for in his ability to manipulate those around him.

Luckily, Watson is around most of the time handling the living so that Holmes can focus on finding answers for the deceased. It is interesting that these particular traits allowed Holmes to become the phenomenon that he is. Though I find it even more interesting that he was embraced, the way that he was, when he was originally published. Despite his harsh nature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle received fan mail addressed to Holmes himself!

There Is Nothing More Deceptive Than An Obvious Fact For Sherlock Holmes

So what is it that keeps people coming back? I don’t feel that I can offer a finite answer to that question, but I can say this: I’ve always felt that there is a time and place for books, and I fully believe that translates over to film and television as well. There have been incredible books that I have put down, only to come back years later and be enthralled by.

Sometimes you just aren’t ready for that fandom yet, or maybe it isn’t ready for you, but one day it will be. So, thank goodness there is something about Sherlock because every adaptation opens someone’s eyes to everything he has to offer.


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