A study in memes: Interesting facts about Sherlock Holmes

The other day I was scrolling through Pinterest, I discovered this meme, and was struck with something akin to wonder.

Watson Meme

The person who created this seemed to be a ignoring 120 years of character history. The characters of Holmes and Watson first appeared in A Study in Scarlet published in 1887, and since then the characters have graced short stories, stage productions, radio plays, non-canonical writings, comic books and films. There’s even a “themed” restaurant*  Many people have played the part and many more will continue to do so**. But this picture denotes something that I’ve suspected for a while, that fans of the brilliant BBC show, Sherlock, are perhaps not all fans of Sherlock Holmes, one of the greatest and most enduring literary creations to have ever smoked a pipe and shot cocaine.

In a geeky attempt to share my adoration for the fictional detective, as well as bridge the chasm between literature and television, I’ve created a list of Sherlock Holmes facts that offer interesting insights into the character, in the hopes that those fans reading this might lessen their ire.  So buckle up, this shit’s about to get literary.


Hunter’s Attire: The item known as the “Sherlock Holmes hat” is perhaps the item most closely associated with the great detective. This hat, known as a “deerstalker”, would have been mostly worn in the country and wouldn’t have been a part of Sherlock Holmes’ day to day attire. The character of Watson never describes Holmes wearing this type of hat, referring to only a “close-fitting cloth cap”. The first vision of Holmes in the deerstalker, came from illustrator Sidney Paget’s depiction of Holmes in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.


A Literary Shackle: The introduction of “The Napoleon of crime”, Prof. James Moriarty was for the sole purpose of killing Holmes off. Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation had become so popular, that the author could write nothing else. The only way Doyle could see fit to be free of the famous detective would be to kill him off in The Final Problem. There would be three years between Homes’ supposed death and his triumphant return in The Empty House. This period of time is often referred to as “The Great Hiatus”.


No girls allowed: In A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson writes: “He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.”***  Much has been made, however, of Sherlock Holmes’ relationship with Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outwit him. This relationship gets expanded upon whenever Holmes makes his way to the screen. And while the great detective did respect Adler as an opponent, “It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.”

Stronger than Tea

Cokehead: Holmes was an avid cocaine user, as well as a dabbler in morphine. Doyle sprinkled his early Holmes stories with indications that Holmes may be on some kind of drug, but The Sign of Four confirms cocaine use in both the opening and closing scenes of the story. Watson referred to his friend as a “self-poisoner” and warned Holmes of the dangers of drug use. The detective claimed that he shot cocaine only to combat the ennui that accompanied times when there were no cases to solve.


Beekeeper & Author: Much like his creator and his companion, Sherlock Holmes was himself a writer, but preferred scientific subject matter to his own fantastical exploits. Having written several monographs on varying subjects from 140 varieties of tobacco ash, to the forms of secret writing, his favorite work he ever published was his “Practical Handbook of Bee Culture”, in which he detailed his studies of the honey bee.

Sherlock Holmes had originally appeared in 56 short stories and four novels. His keen wit and hawkish features have hunted for clues in every facet of media from his premiere to the present. As of 2013 there exist 419 active Sherlock Holmes societies world wide. I could geek-out over Sherlock Holmes for hours and provide you with references to Dr. Joseph Bell and the Diogenes Club, but I’m not going to. Instead I’ll just say that while I have my favorite iterations of the character and his supporting players, there is definitely room for all interpretations. It is my hope that fans will see fit to accept this and enjoy the magnificent history of the character in all his forms, if for no other reason than to not clog my Pinterest feed with ridiculousness, while I search for scone recipes.


*The Baker Street Pub and Grill is like someone took an Applebees and dressed it in tweed and pipe. Although the Welsh rarebit is delightful.

**The television show House is technically a modernization of Sherlock Holmes

***A Scandal in Bohemia

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