Mr. Sherlock Holmes

Personal observations on the popularity of The Great Detective.

1940s Films

Sherlock Holmes is the must popular detective in the world. It was well over a hundred ago that he appeared in A Study in Scarlet. This was the first of the four novels and fifty-four short stories that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes. Holmes scholars refer to the above as the Canon. In addition to the Canon there have been over twenty-four thousand other books and articles written about Holmes so far. He has appeared on the stage, screen, radio, and television. The two best actors to play the role of Sherlock Holmes were Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett for many they became Holmes. Doubtless, there is not a person on the planet that does not know his address—221b Baker Street London. Sherlock Holmes receives an amount mail second only to Santa Claus. In fact, the bank that, today, stands at 221b Baker Street employs a secretary to answer Holmes’ large amount of correspondence. He has fans in the United States, Japan, and all points in between, some of whom write The Great Detective over two thousand letters a year. Some letters ask for help of all kinds, others criticize his treatment of his best friend Dr. John H. Watson, and still more letters are just general fan mail. Holmes has even found his onto the Internet there are countless webpages and emailing lists with Sherlock Holmes as their subject. Some of the best links can be found on my Sherlock Holmes Links page.


What is it about this fictional character that makes him so popular and beloved to so many, and to some, indeed, a real person? The popularity of Sherlock Holmes can be explained by examining three areas his self-control, his friendship with Watson, and his sense of justice. Holmes had amazing self-control when he was at work. This self-control and focus was shown in A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four as well as his other cases. In all his cases Holmes would seize a problem, and work on it to exclusion of all else until the problem was solved. Watson said, “Holmes had an animal-lust for the chase.” It is this self-control, and the feel that there is no problem that Holmes can not solve that draws people to The Great Detective. Holmes can make a different when others can not and sometimes that different is between life and death.

In Watson, Holmes found the perfect friend. Watson put up with Holmes’ shortcomings such as his lack of neatness, his seeming inability to find his own files, and lack of regard for his personal safety. It was left to Watson to look after two of these matters. Neatness was left to Mrs. Hudson. Watson would also drop everything to be at Holmes’ side, and there were the times in, the Granada Television, stories that Watson after being up most of the night would be woken at dawn even if the case were not a matter of life or death. Watson, like all best friends, gave his best friend moral support in times of doubt. In the case of The Norwood Builder, Watson was there at a dark time in the case when Holmes needed him. Holmes said, “I feel as if I shall need your company and your moral support today.” It is impossible to think of Holmes without Watson, for Holmes himself thought Watson stimulated his deductive powers. These and other aspects of this singular friendship are still of interest to fans.

From time to time, Holmes would solve a crime, but let the matter of punishment drop. I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies, once told Watson. It was Holmes’ sense of justice, and the sense that it could not always be found in the law or at the hands of the police that made the public take to him. In the case of The Red Circle he stated, The law is what we live with; justice is sometimes harder to achieve.

Sherlock Holmes is imperfect in many ways, but those shortcomings only bring him closer to his fans. His deductive powers allow him to do what the general public can not seek a justice that is not always found in law, but truly right. That is something all of us wish we could do.