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Sherlock Holmes (the original stories)

  • Acceptable Religious Targets: Mormons are given a bad rap in "A Study in Scarlet". The story even indicates that Young has a group of secret killers who murder other Mormons for any act they deem religiously wrong or just speaking out against their faith in any way. In Doyle's defense, though, only Brigham Young's original polygamist followers get this treatment, not every Average Joe on the street who follows the religion. He also apologized for that portrayal.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Nearly every interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is different from the last. The base character seems to be a cool, brilliant, strait-laced and classy hero-for-hire (sort of like the Basil Rathbone version), but later adaptations have branched into two (equally accurate but not mutually exclusive) interpretations: the Bunny-Ears Lawyer Sherlock Holmes, who is a Cloudcuckoolander while being disturbingly competent (see the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. version or Disney's animated The Great Mouse Detective) or an anti-social Jerkass who is highly manipulative and insensitive, often out of lack of understanding rather than malice (see Sherlock and Elementary). Naturally, expect a great deal of overlap within these two fields, but most interpretations will lean towards one or the other.
    • Watson's portrayal varies a great deal between adaptations. Apart from the fact that they portray him on a sliding scale of both competence and assertiveness, his original characterization can be interpreted in many different ways due to the fact that while Watson's narration often uses descriptors and adjectives and explanations to colour the readers' view of Holmes, or of events where Watson is more of a passive observer, he usually simply reports his own actions with very little elaboration or descriptive flair, simply letting the actions stand on their own. Therefore, the exact flavour of his behaviour is in many scenes a mystery — see his very short, prosaic descriptions of actions that could easily have been highly charged if he had phrased them differently, like responding to a villain's casual warning that he's armed by seizing a chair in order to beat him up, or dashing up to blow out an attacking dog's brains at close range without hesitation. People can (and have) characterized Watson's demeanour as anything from a quiet observer on the sidelines simply taking note of Holmes's actions, to an impulsive and hotheaded semi-bodyguard who enthusiastically sticks his nose into everything while taking stock.
      • Tying into this, some may question whether the bumbling renditions of Watson such as that of Nigel Bruce are the most incompetent or the sanest. While more cerebral renditions of Watson are quicker to lose patience or judge Holmes and his eccentric methods, the more buffoonish ones are more passive, smart enough to know Holmes will figure everything out and usually playing Only Sane Man while the more skeptical cast question or try to intervene.
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    • Mycroft Holmes. Holmes scholar Ronald A. Knox takes his blundering in "The Greek Interpreter," despite his intelligence, as proof that Mycroft was secretly a criminal in league with not only the villains of "The Greek Interpreter'' but with Moriarty as well, and that he acted as a double-agent on behalf of his brother.
    • Holmes' stated lack of interest in women: is he gay, asexual, or simply straight but very repressed?
    • Holmes has been long speculated to be neurodiverse, and the evidence is certainly there. Is he? If he is, what does he have?
  • Author's Saving Throw: Holmes's return in "The Empty House", and the revelation that he'd survived Moriarty's attack in "The Final Problem" and just gone into hiding for a while.
  • Awesome Ego: Sherlock Holmes is very sure of his own superior intellect, and loves flattery — and the readers tend to love him for it.
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  • Captain Obvious Reveal: Because Time Marches On, the twist that the Ku Klux Klan are the villains of "The Five Orange Pips" is far more obvious now than it would have been to British readers in 1892.
  • "Common Knowledge":
    • Sherlock's Iconic Outfit is a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape. Except he's never mentioned (at least not explicitly) wearing either in the text. Sidney Paget's illustrations do show him wearing those articles of clothing... but only occasionally, always when he's out in the countryside, and never together.
    • Similarly, Holmes is popularly assumed to smoke a calabash pipe with a meerschaum bowl. However, this wasn't mentioned in the text either (the text generally said he smoked a long-stemmed cherrywood pipe, with him occasionally being said to smoke a briar-root pipe or a black and oily clay pipe), nor was he ever drawn smoking one on Paget's illustrations (he always depicted him smoking a cherrywood pipe). In fact, Holmes smoking a calabash pipe while on a case is impossible, since it didn't arrive in the United Kingdom until after he retired from detective work. Where the idea of him smoking a calabash pipe came from is a mystery. Though there are some other misconceptions regarding the pipe's origin...
      • It's often thought that the calabash pipe came from the stage plays starring William Gillette. But Gillette had Holmes smoking a bent pipe (an ornate briar to be specific).
      • The films featuring Basil Rathbone have also been suggested as the origin of the calabash. However, Rathbone smoked an apple-bowled black briar pipe with a half bend (made by Dunhill) in his first two Sherlock Holmes movies (the ones produced by 20th Century Fox and set in the Victorian era), and in the next dozen movies (which were produced by Universal and set in the 1940s), he smokes a Peterson half bend with a billiard-shaped bowl. There is a calabash pipe in The Spider Woman... but Holmes doesn't smoke it.
    • Watson spent decades being imagined as a clumsy, boorish, dimwitted oaf. In reality, Doctor Watson was consistently depicted as quite intelligent in the original stories (he wasn't as smart as Sherlock, but that's hardly a knock against him). After all, idiots generally don't become Army surgeons. He certainly wasn't physically incompetent either. "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" mentions that he used to play rugby union for Blackheath F.C., which is hardly something you'd expect from a wimpy klutz. While we're on the subject, Watson wasn't fat; in the first story his friend remarks that Watson, just back from the war, is "thin as a lathe and brown as a nut!" and the later stories consistently describe him as "strongly-built". In fact, he was probably better-looking than Holmes. These misconceptions were probably the result of film adaptations making Watson dumber, less competent and less attractive. This is, however, starting to change, thanks to multiple recent adaptations that were Truer to the Text in regards to Watson.
    • On a more minor note, Watson is frequently thought of as being significantly older than Holmes. Truth is, he and Holmes were about the same age.
    • While we're on the subject of age, Holmes and Watson are often thought of as being middle-aged or older, and are depicted as such in many, many adaptations. Even the otherwise very book-accurate Granada series depicted them this way. They were actually quite young; the vast majority of stories take place during a ten-year period from their late twenties to their late thirties. Most of the other stories take place during their early forties, and Holmes retires by his late forties.
    • Even though it's true that Holmes' drug use tends to get a lot more focus today than it ever did in Doyle's day, the fact that his drug of choice is cocaine is actually a common misconception. Watson specifically says that Holmes frequently uses both cocaine and morphine note , but his 7% cocaine solution is the only drug that we actually see him using in-story.
    • Though Holmes greatly admired Irene Adler's intellect, he was never in love with her, and they never had any kind of romantic relationship. "A Scandal in Bohemia", the only story that she appears in, actually ended with her running off to marry another man. However, because Adler is one of the most pervasive cases of Promoted to Love Interest in literature, people tend to forget this.
    • Most people "know" that Holmes's greatest nemesis is Professor Moriarty. If you've never read the original stories, it's natural to assume that Moriarty turns up often, either being faced directly or chessmastering the scenarios Holmes finds himself in. In fact, he is featured in exactly two stories, and the first story in which he appeared was also the one in which he died. A full-length novel, The Valley of Fear, was set prior to The Final Problem and is Moriarty's only other appearance. While Holmes does describe him as "the Napoleon of crime" and it's implied that he's at least as brilliant as Holmes is, at no point do any of the characters describe him as Holmes's greatest nemesis. In fairness, though, "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" does heavily imply that he was behind many more crimes that Holmes never found out about, fuelling much speculation.
    • The dramatic scene of Holmes plummeting to his supposed death at Reichenbach Falls, while one of the series' most iconic images, never really happened in canon. In the original story, "The Final Problem", Watson arrived on the scene after Holmes supposedly fell, and put two and two together from a note that Holmes left. It was later revealed in "The Empty House" that Holmes survived his encounter with Moriarty by throwing him down the falls, then chose not to tell Watson that he'd survived so that he could spend some time dealing with his enemies incognito.
    • Mrs Hudson is sometimes seen as Holmes's housekeeper. She wasn't any kind of servant, she owned 221 Baker Street, and rented 221B to Holmes and Watson. That being said, she was often portrayed as cooking for them.
    • In a recent twist, the urge to dismantle the "Common Knowledge" about Sherlock Holmes has led to the creation of an entirely new piece of "Common Knowledge" - the portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a mentally disturbed emotionally crippled loner, solely devoted to the solving of puzzles - the portrayal seen in the Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Junior and Hugh Laurie adaptation portrayals. This is, however, an exaggeration of the books where Holmes is seen as being solitary, subject to occasional dark moods and occasionally tactless but is in fact warm hearted and sympathetic (even in the first adventure he takes his time to listen and understand Watson's horror over the murders) who absolutely hates any sort of cruelty or evil and fights tooth and nail for all of his clients.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Irene Adler, who only appeared in one story of the original tales, but is popular among those who wrote Holmes-based novels, TV, and movies, especially for a Promotion To Love Interest.
    • Moriarty is another example, being a Breakout Villain.
    • Watson's first wife, Mary, often gets given a bigger and more assertive role than in the original canon; like Irene Adler, she's popular with modern writers looking to add more prominent female roles and/or expand her role as Watson's love interest. Tied into this, newer adaptations often spare her the Bus Crash fate from the books and have her be more actively involved in Holmes's investigations.
    • There are many others. Some include Shinwell Johnson and Kitty Winters, the supporting characters from The Illustrious Client, or even Mr. Barker, Holmes's mysterious one-time rival from The Retired Colourman.
    • Let's not forget the Yarders, who unfortunately get flanderized fairly often in published pastiches, but who can also get a lot of screentime and downright magnificent characterization in Fanfiction.
    • The most prestigious Holmes fan club is named for the Baker Street Irregulars.
    • Yet another example is Colonel Sebastian Moran. He appears in only one story (The Adventure of the Empty House), some occasional mention here and there and a play, but thanks to some fairly badass background details and actions, he really struck a chord with readers. While little more than a Villain of the Week in the story, he has since grown to a far larger character in other Sherlock Holmes works, often serving as the Evil Counterpart to Watson (such as in A Game of Shadows).
  • Fair for Its Day: Although Doyle often reflected the prejudices of his day (Wikipedia specifically contrasts it with the cowardly and brutish Steve Dixie in "The Adventure of the Three Gables"), he nevertheless occasionally displayed surprisingly liberal values, as in "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", in which a husband immediately and without reservation accepts and loves his wife's mixed-race child from a previous relationship. And a later story, "The Five Orange Pips," treats the racial violence of the Ku Klux Klan with condemnation at a time in history when racial violence was often seen as an acceptable counter-reaction.
  • Fandom Rivalry: Elementary vs. Sherlock aside, you would see fans butting heads on each other regarding which actor played Sherlock Holmes the best. Usually, it would be Basil Rathbone fans vs. Vasily Livanov fans vs. Jeremy Brett fans. Then, toss in Benedict Cumberbatch fans, Robert Downey Jr. fans, Jonny Lee Miller fans, and Henry Cavill fans and it's an all-out war. The only thing that most fans agree on is that none of them like Henry Lloyd-Hughes's portrayal because he bears little to no resemblance to the character himself.
  • Fanon: Has its own page.
  • Fan Wank: One of the older, best-established, and most erudite examples, and still going strong. People have written dissertations that are, essentially, Holmes Fan Wank that's Shown Their Work. Trying to work out inconsistencies in the canon is known within the fandom as the Sherlockian Game, among other names. The less intrusive and more elegant a proposed fix is, the better regarded it is.
  • Genius Bonus: Holmes calling Maths Professor Moriarty "The Napoleon of Crime" gets a whole new dimension when you know that the original Napoléon Bonaparte's second career choice was mathematician. So in a way, he was the Moriarty of world leaders as well.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: It's much harder to enjoy "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" after Auschwitz...
    • The culprit in The Adventure of the Three Students vows to lead a moral life, forfeits his position at the college, and joins a police force overseas. This is hailed by all concerned as his great hope for turning over a new leaf. The police force he's recruited into? Rhodesia's, which would be complicit in the exploitation and brutalization of the native population for decades to come.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • In "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," Holmes expresses a hope that the U.S. would rejoin the U.K. An...eccentric position when the story was written, but with the popularity of USUK, he has plenty of support on that, albeit in a different sense. An additional layer of hilarity is that this is one of the goals of the villain in the 2009 Holmes film.
    • In A Study In Scarlet, Lestrade discovers what he thinks is a vital clue by examining the walls. Years later in The Norwood Builder, a similar clue shows up on the wall... except Lestrade hadn't bothered to check them that time and the clue had to be pointed out to him. Holmes, who had examined the walls, knew it was a fake because it wasn't there the previous day.
    • Out-of-universe, in Charles Augustus Milverton Watson is wearing plimsolls and black tie.
  • Ho Yay: So much we had to give it its own page. Someone involved here knew which side their fandom is buttered on...
  • Iconic Character, Forgotten Title: Most of the novels did not have Sherlock Holmes in the title.
  • Memetic Badass:
    • Irene Adler, the woman who went up against the best detective in London, if not the world, and managed to outsmart him.
    • Watson himself, with Three Continents, a Mustache, and a Handgun.
    • Sebastian Moran. The exact point where this was established is when Holmes mentioned he once crawled up a drainpipe to kill a cornered, wounded, man-eating tiger, just one of a number of exploits.
    • Sherlock himself is this, though this has become the standard
  • Older Than They Think: The phrase "The game's afoot" is sometimes attributed to Holmes, but Doyle himself was borrowing it from Henry V.
  • Paranoia Fuel:
    • The Mormons in A Study in Scarlet, able to make Un-People at will, and get past every barrier you can put between them and you.
    • Likewise, the Ku Klux Klan from The Five Orange Pips.
    • A less sinister example: Holmes' deductive abilities arguably go from "cool" to "creepy" in the first chapter of The Sign of Four (that is, the second novel) when he studies Watson's watch for a minute, then proceeds to give a summarized biography of Watson's elder brother, whom he hadn't known existed before he started.
  • Recurring Fanon Character: Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes have an eldest brother Sherrinford Holmes, never mentioned in Conan Doyle canon because he stays on his country estate. He came about because of implications that Sherlock comes from the landed gentry, which means in Victorian social terms that as well as Sherlock and Mycroft there must be a third eldest brother who inherited the family landholding. The name "Sherrinford" comes from Doyle's reported first name for Sherlock in early drafts.
  • Saved by the Fans: Doyle tried to kill off Holmes when he got tired of the character. People didn't take it well, so he was brought back. Although it wasn't the complaints that led him to bring Holmes back...
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Sir Arthur's depiction of the Mormons as a Religion of Evil in A Study in Scarlet was completely uncontroversial at the time, whereas his portrayal of the KKK as a murderous secret society in "The Five Orange Pips" was not. Nowadays, it's the opposite.
    • One sailor is prepared to accept that Holmes is really being honest with him... because he's white.
    • Steve Dixie, the cowardly and thuggish black henchman from "The Adventure of the Three Gables," is such an offensive character to modern sensibilities that he's only been portrayed on film twice, and to add insult to injury Holmes throws in a few jeers about his race.
  • Values Resonance: The last few paragraphs of "The Yellow Face". To clarify, Effie Munro had married a black man in America and had a child with him before he died of disease. Considering the time period and their attitudes on non-whites, this is quite remarkable. Then her husband (Grant Munro) quietly tells her that she could have just confided in him from the start, picks up the girl and kisses her affectionately and tells his wife that he would find a way to make it work out for all of them.
    "I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think I am a better one than you have given me credit for being."
    • Watson himself lampshades it by saying that the moment was one that he loves to remember.
  • The Woobie: Watson in A Study in Scarlet is a wounded war vet with possible PTSD living a "comfortless, meaningless existence" before Holmes comes into his life. In The Sign of the Four Holmes picks up the Woobie Ball by gaining a depressive streak and a drug addiction. Of the two of them, Holmes with his grim and solitary nature is the one more often portrayed as a woobie in adaptations and pastiches.
    • "The Greek Interpreter" gives us four. In addition to the interpreter and the brother and sister (all hideously treated), we have the old soldier from the people-watching scene, recently widowed with multiple children.

Sherlock Holmes (The TV series starring Jeremy Brett)

  • Can't Un-Hear It: For many, Jeremy Brett was the definitive Holmes.
  • Character Rerailment: The series rescued Watson from the "fat bumbling idiot" depiction of many previous adaptations.
  • Dork Age: Briefly, when the production team decided to retool the series from hour-long episodes to feature-length ones: "The Master Blackmailer", "The Last Vampyre" and "The Eligible Bachelor." While the first is consider a decent Adaptation Expansion, the latter two bear absolutely no resemblance to anything Conan Doyle ever wrote.
  • Fight Scene Failure: In the fight scene in "The Solitary Cyclist" between Holmes and a drunken ruffian, the opening backhand obviously misses and slightly later one of Holmes' punches is obviously aimed below the chin. However, the fight is otherwise competently staged.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • "The Dying Detective" takes on a whole new significance when you know that Jeremy Brett died the year after it was filmed. (Also of note: The A&E Biography of Sherlock Holmes - featuring David Burke - aired the same day Brett died.)
    • Holmes smoking his iconic pipe becomes this when you know that Brett's smoking habit was one of the contributing factors to his death.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: "Shoscombe Old Place" features a very, very young Jude Law as a stable boy. (In drag, no less.) Fast-forward to 2009... and who's playing Watson?
  • Magnificent Bastard: "The Six Napoleons": Beppo Cicollini is an Italian craftsman and low-level criminal connected to The Mafia. When the Venucci family endeavoured to steal the Black Pearl of the Borgias from the Colonna royal family, Beppo acted as a go-between for the family and the patriarch's daughter Lucrezia, who was a maid for the Princess of Colonna and whom Beppo had been courting. Obtaining enough information to steal the Pearl, Beppo covers his tracks well enough that Holmes himself is unable to find him. Fleeing into his workplace after a fight with Lucrezia's brother Pietro, Beppo hides the Pearl among a batch of six busts of Napoleon Bonaparte before being arrested. Released from prison a year later, Beppo sets out to recover the pearl. Charming his way into employment with seller Morse Hudson with the help of a cousin, Beppo systematically locates each bust and breaks them to find the pearl, taking careful measures to avoid being discovered. Killing Pietro when the latter accosted him outside one of the burglaries, Beppo nearly found the Pearl again before being arrested and executed for his crimes.
  • Nightmare Retardant: Adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles often struggle to depict the titular hound and this was no exception. Here it's a Great Dane coated with phosphorescent material. Furthermore, the dog, named Khan, was a Big Friendly Dog in real life and was very hard to make believably scary.
  • Periphery Demographic: Both the producers and Jeremy Brett were surprised to learn that their TV series was very popular with kids, who seemed to see the lead character as a Super Hero. As such, Brett got permission from the granddaughter of Arthur Conan Doyle to have Holmes beat his cocaine addiction and bury his needle note .
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • Seasonal Rot: Beginning with "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" the series began to decline, not helped by Jeremy Brett's ill-health. For the first few seasons, the production team had cherry-picked many of the best and most well-known stories to adapt, now they were left with largely average to mediocre ones . Special mention goes to "The Last Vampyre" and "The Eligible Bachelor" which were especially dreadful and bore little resemblance to anything Doyle wrote.
  • Tear Jerker:
    • The ending of "The Adventure of the Crooked Man". While Nancy and Henry are cleared of any wrongdoing in the Colonel's death, it's hinted that Henry is even though the former lovers are now free to be together, Henry's holding the locket with their silhouettes with a saddened expression implies that they won't be together..
    • Much like the original version, the adaptation of "The Cardboard Box" is hard to get through. Ciarán Hinds' performance is a major reason for this.
    • Poor Aggie in "The Master Blackmailer" fell in love with Holmes's false identity, and though she doesn't blow his cover, recognizes him when he shows up at Milverton's house as himself. Holmes is quite subdued and regretful at the end, as well, telling Watson he's not proud of some of the things he did for the case.


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