Sherlock Holmes in Popular Culture

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Stories about crimes always succeeded by fascination. At the latest since Cain and Abel the topic of crime and punishment and the becoming of “good” and “evil” evolved to elementary questions.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) is considered the first modern detective story.

But 40 years later one would come to re-invent the whole genre of detective fiction: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with the greatest detective of all times – Sherlock Holmes.

There is hardly anyone who never has heard of the stoic, sociopathic and ingenious Sherlock Holmes and his somewhat naive, funny, yet likeable companion Doctor Watson, who solve cases of crime in Victorian London.

A star is born

Statue of A.C.Doyle

When Arthur Conan Doyle published Holmes’ first case “A Study in Scarlet” in 1886 he could never have predicted the gigantic success his character would have during his own lifetime and – even less – the impact on the generations to follow, so that his detective became an integral part of popular culture till today. Also for the development of common criminology the Sherlock Holmes stories were of high importance.

While the whole Empire admired the tales of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself, however, had an ambivalent relationship with his invention. The author was of the opinion that the success of his detective stories keeps him from better things to do (he also worked as a physician). His mother and his fans, eventually, convinced him to continue writing.

In the case “The Final Problem” (1893) Doyle let his character die, when Holmes and his villain Professor Moriarty fell down the Reichenbach falls. His readership was shocked. Because of public pressure Doyle revived Sherlock Holmes for some more stories almost a decade later.

All in all Arthur Conan Doyle, who got ennobled for his efforts, published four Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories featuring the great detective.

Sherlock Holmes in Popular Culture

Sherlock Holmes in Film and Television

J. Brett as Sherlock Holmes

During the 20th century Sherlock Holmes made it several times into popular television and the cinema, most notably in the TV-series “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes from 1984 to 1994. Brett’s role as Sherlock Holmes is unrivalled. Brett’s face became in our collective popular memory the face of Sherlock Holmes. The same happened with Doctor Watson, impersonated by David Burke.

B. Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

Since the last years the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and his companion Doctor Watson is growing again. The reason for that are two rather stupid and disappointing action movies by Guy Ritchie (2009 & 2011) as well as an ingenious BBC-series simply called “Sherlock”, first broadcast in 2010.

M. Freeman as John H. Watson

The latter was created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who is also responsible for the reload of Doctor Who. The two masterminds perfectly managed to transfer Holmes’ stories from Victorian London to the present. Also the choice of actors is exquisite, but no surprise if you watched Doctor Who. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a very alienesque and sociopathic Sherlock Holmes, while Martin Freeman (who is known for his role as Bilbo in “The Hobbit”) plays the “good soul” Watson.

Sherlock Holmes Video Games

It is no wonder that Sherlock Holmes also managed to gain ground in the video gaming sector. While there might be other good Holmes games out there, I want to focus here on the series by the Ukrainian/Irish developers “Frogwares”.

       

So far Frogwares released seven major adventure games featuring the ingenious detective. Here’s a list:

1.) Sherlock Holmes: Mystery of the Mummy (2002)
2.) Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring (2004)
3.) Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2006)
4.) Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin (2007)
5.) Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper (2009)
6.) The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (2012)
7.) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (2014)

When you play them in the right order (as I did) you can follow the evolution of both, design and complexity, of the games. Three of these games are mesh-ups, one with HP Lovecraft’s Cthulu series (“The Awakened”), one with the French master-thief Arsène Lupin and one with Jack the Ripper and the murders of Whitechapel.

The games are not based on any of Doyle’s works, except for the recent on, “Crimes & Punishments”. Unlike its predecessors, “Crimes & Punishments” is divided into six separate cases. This game’s Holmes is a hybrid of Doyle’s original in character, Jeremy Brett’s appearance and Moffat’s visuals. I lack of proper words to describe how perfect this game is. I can only recommend to play this jewel.

Sherlock and me

I still hardly can believe what Arthur Conan Doyle achieved with his character Sherlock Holmes. To me the detective is a never-ending source of fascination and inspiration since I can remember. The first time I heard of Holmes was, I guess, from a children’s book with illustrations. During my teens I read all the 60 tales of the great detective.

There is so much “Holmes” in popular culture, and when something comes in such a mass, one has to pick the cherries out of it. And for me these cherries are the series with Jeremy Brett, the BBC series “Sherlock” and definitely the video games by Frogwares. Let us just hope the latter two will continue their fine work.

About André Savetier

Since 2011 André Savetier is actively working as a music journalist with an expertise on contemporary new wave music phenomena. His scientific specialization is anthropology of music and anthropology of popular culture. Savetier remains intrigued by the interplay between the aforementioned social phenomena, the told (and untold) legends of music and its roots.

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