Characters / Sherlock Holmes

The characters of the Sherlock Holmes novels.
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    Sherlock Holmes 

  • The Ace: In the eyes of Watson and Scotland Yard.
  • Always Someone Better: To Inspector Lestrade and, to an extent, the rest of Scotland Yard.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: He's certainly very eccentric. The obsessiveness, antisocial personality and occasional strange or inappropriate behavior (often commented upon by other characters) are seen as autistic traits by some readers; while his tendency to alternate between energetic and lethargic or depressed moods might suggest some form of bipolar disorder.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The trope's Patron Saint. At least once in every single story Doyle wrote and every other story after that. Also, every copycat and fanfic with a halfway-decent mystery at least tries. Because he wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes without it.
  • Badass Bookworm: Holmes is both strong for his size and a capable pugilist. His opponents have remarked that he would have made an excellent prize fighter if he had not devoted himself to intellectual pursuits.
  • Badass Long Coat: When in London, his favoured coat is a Macfarlane cape-coat, which happens to be the city counterpart of the Inverness cape-coat, the one heís depicted with when travelling the countryside. Both coats are explicitly cut to accommodate the moves of a hand-to-hand fighter/swordsman (an Inverness even doesn't have sleeves at all, only the pellegrina), which suits the singlestick-fighting Holmes quite well.
  • Berserk Button: Comparing him to a fictional detective.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: One of the originals.
    Watson: I donít think you need alarm yourself, I have usually found that there was method in his madness.
    Inspector Forrester: Some folk might say there was madness in his method.
  • Cane Fu: Holmes is quite the singlestick player.
  • Catch Phrase: "It is simplicity itself" and "You know my methods", as well as occasionally referring to an absorbing case as, "not entirely devoid of interest."
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius/Celibate Hero/Chaste Hero: Holmes dismisses love and women as distractions which would interfere with his ability to be a perfect reasoning machine. Sometimes he claims not to notice female attractiveness at all; but it's not 100% clear whether he's really completely asexual or has just chosen a life of celibacy.
  • Challenge Seeker: Only takes a case if it seems sufficiently interesting, and constantly bemoans the criminal classes' lack of ingenuity.
  • The Chessmaster: Holmes becomes this sometime in the middle of each story, except in "A Scandal in Bohemia", when he was beaten at his own game by a woman, Irene Adler.
  • Clothes Make the Legend: Even though neither the deerstalker or cape were actually featured prominently in the stories and only ever appeared once in Sidney Paget's illustrations, it's hard to imagine Holmes without them. Some adaptations missed the fact that the Deerstalker hat and the Inverness coat were both country wear, something that a respectable gentleman would never wear in the city. Others correctly had Holmes wearing a Top hat or a Homburg (in stories set later in his career) when about town with a Frock coat or Greatcoat.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Not as commonly depicted the curved "calabash" stylenote , Holmes would have used a less ostentatious straight or slightly curved stem pipe with a small bowl.
  • Doing It for the Art (In-Universe): Holmes' approach to his detective work.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The end of "Final Problem" was intended to be Holmes' last bow. Fans were not pleased.
  • Forgets to Eat: Or refuses to because it would interfere with his mental concentration.
  • Functional Addict: He uses cocaine in the early stories, although eventually Watson helps him drop the habit.
  • Genius Slob: Watson recounts that Holmes normally leaves everything but his mind untidy. Even though he is immaculately groomed he still writes on his shirt cuffs.
  • Genre Popularizer: Arguably the character that jumpstarted the detective story.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Watson.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Inverted, in that he only takes cocaine when he's bored. Played straight with tobacco, however.
  • The Insomniac: Finds it hard to sleep when he's fixated on a problem.
  • Insufferable Genius: Yes. He even justifies it in "The Greek Interpreter" by saying since he's a logician he must see things exactly as they are, so to underplay his brain powers would be a departure from the truth.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Without something to engage him, Holmes turns in on himself or resorts to cocaine.
  • In the Blood: According to Holmes himself, his observation and detective skills are hereditary, as he and his brother both possess them.
  • Invincible Hero: Surprisingly averted in "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "Thor Bridge", while in "Five Orange Pips", Holmes mentions that he has been defeated four times.
  • Loves Secrecy: Likes to keep most of his conclusions secret up until The Reveal; this trait was passed on to many other fictional detectives.
  • Master of Disguise: Not even Watson can identify Holmes when he's assumed another identity.
  • Mysterious Past: At least partially fits this trope, given that Watson comments more than once in the stories about how he knows virtually nothing of Holmes's past. All that is eventually revealed is that he's distantly related to a bunch of French painters, he attended university somewhere, he's descended from country squires, and he has an older brother who's even cleverer than he is.
  • Never Found the Body: At the end of "The Final Problem", with good reason.
  • Nice Hat: As a 19th century gentleman, Holmes owns an assortment of these, ranging from a bowler over a top hat to finally the famous deerstalker. While the lattermost is never mentioned by name in the books (the illustrator of the Strand Magazine, Sidney Paget was the one to choose it), it is also the only period hat that fits the description in "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," "[an] ear-flapped travelling cap", and in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", a "close-fitting cloth cap". The only time fashion-conscious Holmes is depicted with the deerstalker while being in the city is in "The Empty House", which is extremely unusual for Paget. And finally, he dons a Homburg hat in "His Last Bow", which hints at the changes in times and fashion.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Holmes says that his ancestors were country squires, and he still managed to pay the bills while trying to establish himself as a detective. It's later said that he could have purchased 221B Baker Street outright from Mrs. Hudson. After The Great Hiatus, he also bought out Watson's old practice as an inducement for his old friend to move back in with him.
  • Not So Stoic: Has a moment of this in "The Man With the Twisted Lip" that concludes with a Big "WHAT?!". Other moments are sprinkled sparingly throughout the stories. One of the more famous among the fanbase (particularly Holmes/Watson fans) is Holmes's reaction to Watson being shot in "The Three Garridebs".
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Holmes will sometimes use this to his advantage when interrogating a suspect.
  • Private Detective: Or to use Holmes' precise words, "Consulting Detective".
  • The Quiet One: Whenever someone relates to him a case, Holmes is reservedly quiet (signifying that his calculating mind is in action) and after the client(s) leave, Watson notes that Holmes will normally sit for a few hours in his armchair and go over the case.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: During his first meeting with Moriarty in "The Final Problem", he is fingering the trigger of a gun inside his pocket. Moriarty points out the danger of this and remarks that he expected Holmes to be smarter than that. And then there's the fact that he shot a patriotic insignia into the living room wall with bullet-marks.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Since he's not a police detective, things like warrants don't worry him.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: He's helped the police enough, and done countless services to the Government and the Royal Family (he was even offered - and declined - a knighthood) that the few times someone does complain about him breaking into their house he doesn't have to worry.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Holmes is a Victorian gentleman and dresses as such.
  • Sherlock Scan: Holmes' trademark. He can tell a lifetime's worth of information about a person by just looking them over for a few moments which, of course, normally leaves everyone else in the room baffled.
  • The Spock: Holmes is quite adamant that emotion has no place in his line of work, only science, empiricism, and logic.
  • Workaholic: Detective work is his true addiction. When he's on a case, he goes for days without sleep and occasionally works himself to the point of a nervous collapse. When he doesn't have a case, he becomes morose and requires "artificial stimulants" to keep boredom at bay.

    Dr. John H. Watson 

  • Deuteragonist: One of the finest examples in English-language fiction. Holmes himself admits that he would be lost without Watson, and Watson's assistance, whether through his medical talents or his doing legwork for Holmes, repeatedly shows its value.
  • Flanderization: Over time, incarnations of Watson made him obese and rather bumbling, despite the fact that Watson is portrayed in the stories as of around Holmes' build and extremely intellectual (he is a bit slow compared to Holmes, but virtually everyone is as well, and he is consistently depicted leagues ahead of most everyone else in the regular cast). 21st century adapations (film and live action TV) have rectified this.
  • The Gambling Addict: Spends "about half [his] wound pension" gambling on the races.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Holmes.
  • The Lancer: To Holmes.
  • Love at First Sight: With Mary Morstan, almost instantaneously.
  • Official Couple: With Mary Morstan at the end of The Sign of the Four.
  • Serial Spouse: If you take all the dates in the stories literally, Watson is either this or a serial widower.
  • Shipper on Deck: Of Holmes and Violet Hunter in "The Copper Beeches".
  • The Stoic: Mary seems to have died sometime between Holmes's disappearance and return. Watson doesn't talk about it and Holmes doesn't press the issue, implying that he probably maintained a stiff upper lip despite his loss.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Sort of; the stories are told from Watson's point of view, but they focus on Holmes' adventures.
  • Undying Loyalty: Would follow Holmes anywhere and do anything Holmes asks of him, no matter how crazy, dangerous or illegal. Despite Holmes' frequent dishonesty and manipulative behavior, Watson always trusts that he knows what he's doing and that it's best to go along with his plans, however little he understands them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Holmes sometimes accuses Watson of being this; adaptations occasionally toy with this aspect of the Holmes legend.
  • The Watson: The Trope Namer.

    Inspector Lestrade 

  • Flanderization: Lestrade is quite subdued when placed alongside Holmes' quick wit, but the Universal films in the 1940s turned him into The Ditz. This was ironically inverted as time went on, since in The Hound Of The Baskervilles Holmes declares him to be "the very best of the professionals." In "The Cardboard Box", Holmes also praises Lestrade's tenacity, which is what enabled him to come as far as he has at the Yard.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Takes the credit for many of Holmes's successes and gets glowing reviews in the press.
  • Nice Hat: His standard is a black bowler.
  • The Rival:
    • Tries to be this to Holmes, but is ultimately too slow to pull it off.
    • Has this with Inspector Gregson as well.

    Professor James Moriarty 

  • Affably Evil: He politely waits for Holmes to write a farewell note to Watson before the final showdown.
  • Always Someone Better: He's almost as good as Holmes, but not quite. For all Moriarty's skill, Holmes remarks that there are limits to his intelligence. At some point, he made a very small, but ultimately fatal, error that allowed Holmes to bring down his entire empire.
  • Animal Motifs: Holmes describes the "reptilian" way that Moriarity moves his head. He also compares Moriarty to a giant, malevolent spider, sitting at the centre of a web of crime, aware of even the slightest touch on its threads.
  • Badass Bookworm: According to Holmes, Moriarty's book The Dynamics Of An Asteroid ascends to such high levels of mathematics that it almost boggles the mind.
  • Badass Grandpa: Generally depicted to be older than Holmes, but no less dangerous for all that.
  • Benevolent Boss: He seems to be one; Holmes mentions that if an agent of his is caught, money will be found in Moriarty's organization for that individual's freedom or defense; suggesting at least an occasional aversion of You Have Failed Me. He pays Moran an exorbitant salary for his skills, and Holmes talks about three former members of his gang who will stop at nothing to revenge themselves on him after Moriarty's death.
  • Breakout Villain: Though only featured in one story and passively in another, Holmes' mention of his ominous reputation in later stories and adaptations of the character have made him a hallmark of the Evil Genius archetype.
  • Character Tics: A 'curiously reptilian' way of moving his head.
  • The Chessmaster: Not for nothing is he called "the Napoleon of crime"
  • Determinator: A villainous example. Holmes described Moriarty as "inexorable" in chasing the detective across Europe, caring more about revenge than his life in his last rush at the detective.
  • Evil Counterpart: To Holmes.
  • Evil Genius: Credited by Holmes himself as "a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker." His scientific literature is peerless, and his genius in crime is what takes Holmes so long to catch him (and hard to escape him).
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Moriarty was created to kill off Holmes in "The Final Problem", but became much more popular as time went on.
  • Gray Eyes: Another attribute he shares with Holmes.
  • Lean and Mean: He is described as "extremely tall and thin" by the tall and thin Holmes himself.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Like Holmes, Moriaty dresses as a Victorian gentleman would be expected to.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: He is a well-respected professor who to, all intents and purposes, seems like a humble, soft-spoken man. Only Holmes knows that Moriarty is a crime lord, but he can't prove it. And when Sherlock Holmes can't prove something, you know the bad guy is very good at what he does.

    Mycroft Holmes 

  • Always Someone Better: Zigzagged. Mycroft is indisputably better than Sherlock when it comes to analytical skill. On the other hand, Sherlock outdoes Mycroft when it comes to determining how to tactically approach a case. When the title character of "The Greek Interpreter" asks Mycroft to help him with a case, Mycroft's first act is to put an ad in the newspapers asking for the number of the cab that picked the interpreter up. All this does is make the criminals realize that the Greek interpreter ratted them out.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Even Holmes admits that Mycroft is better in observation and reasoning than himself, but says that he would not make a good detective, since he lacks the energy and ambition to apply these skills as anything more than a hobby for his amusement.

    Irene Adler 

    Charles Augustus Milverton 

  • Antagonist Title: The only villain in the Holmes canon to have his story named after him; other titles at most allude to them. Even Moriarty never got that honour.
  • Asshole Victim: He is shot by an unknown woman near the end of the story, another victim of his blackmail schemes. One fan theory is that Holmes himself is the one who shot Milverton and Watson made the woman up to protect his friend.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Downplayed. Defeating him seems so hopeless that Holmes hasn't even been hired to stop him- he was hired to negotiate the best possible terms, and even in that, he fails utterly. Holmes, for perhaps the first time in his career, has to go to highly unethical and outright illegal means to win, and even that only involves stealing back the incriminating letters, not actually trying to bring Milverton down.
  • The Dreaded:
    Everything that is in the market goes to Milverton, and there are hundreds in this great city who would turn white at his name.
  • Evil Genius: Holmes concedes that Milverton is far too crafty to be caught by legal means (even saying he is "as cunning as the Evil One"). He can hold onto an incriminating document for years because he is patient enough to wait for the time it can cause maximum damage to profit from it, and has destroyed prominent families with only a few lines on a note.
  • Faux Affably Evil: While he quite polite and jovial in his meeting with Holmes and Watson, he is also clearly enjoying how repulsive Holmes finds him and how little they can do to stop him. He tells them that he doesn't care if the client Holmes works for would be financially ruined if she paid him the money he is asking for, and remarks before leaving that he has two other "interviews" to get to and is blackmailing several other victims simultaneously.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Wears "broad, gold rimmed glasses" behind which are the "hard glitter of those restless and penetrating eyes".
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: When Holmes and Watson break into his house they nearly run into him and watch as he is smoking a long black cigar whilst reading yet another blackmail document at his leisure.
  • Jerkass: The "King of Blackmailers" who comes into possession of sensitive letters and information by encouraging housemaids and servants to rob their employers or even criminals to flat out burgle or mug people in return for payment. He shows zero remorse and even takes sadistic delight in threatening and ruining the lives of vulnerable men and women and is indifferent to whether they can afford to actually pay him or not, reasoning that he can at least make an example out of them to encourage future "clients" to pay up. Holmes calls him "the worst man in London" and remarks that he finds him more disgusting than any of the fifty murderers he had dealt with in his career (which presumably includes Moriarty).
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: A disguised Holmes gets himself engaged to Milvertons' housemaid in order to break into his house and steal back blackmail letters. Watson is aghast, but goes along anyway. Later on, the pair witness the murder of Mllverton and agree to stay quiet on that as well, perverting the course of justice because the bastard had it coming.