How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes

Larry Holzwarth - October 15, 2020

Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed more often, in books, short stories, plays, films, radio and television broadcasts, than any other human character in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. His fictional London address, 221B Baker Street, received mail addressed to the detective for decades, despite the address’s non-existence during the period of Holmes’s fictional lifetime. Thousands of authors have written tales featuring or referring to the great detective, as well as other characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle, including Dr. John Watson, Holmes’s brother Mycroft, and the detective’s nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Wikimedia

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote numerous other works, of historical fiction and medical journals (he was a practicing physician), but none drew the fan attention of his Holmes pieces. At one point, the author was so frustrated by the demand for more stories featuring the detective that he killed him off. Fans responded with outrage; one letter received by Doyle began by addressing him as “You Brute”. He was unsuccessful in destroying his creation, and Holmes continues to “live” today, with new members of his family entering the pantheon of his stories from time to time. Here is how Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, tried to destroy him, and resurrected him to literary immortality.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Doyle, circa 1913. Library of Congress

1. Doyle based Holmes on a real person

Arthur Conan Doyle trained as a physician at Edinburgh, Scotland from 1876 – 1871. While there he served as a clerk for Dr. Joseph Bell, a physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Doyle already had literary aspirations, writing several short stories, though he experienced difficulty finding markets for them. During his tenure as Bell’s clerk, he noticed his employer frequently consulted with Edinburgh police, who often requested his assistance with difficult investigations. Bell’s powers of observation and his deductive reasoning impressed the police, as well as his young clerk. In 1882, Doyle established his own practice, in Portsmouth, England, with an office in Southsea.

He found the lack of patients distressing, and the poor state of his finances impelled him to return to writing fiction. In 1886 the 27-year-old doctor took but three weeks to complete a short novel, in which he introduced Sherlock Holmes. Entitled A Study in Scarlet, which comes from an utterance by Holmes to his recently met roommate Dr. John Watson, it appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual the following year. Holmes was imbued with the traits exhibited by Dr. Bell in his interactions with the police, among them the use of a magnifying glass to examine the evidence. Holmes also exhibited the seemingly astonishing ability to deduce a person’s background, habits, and even marital state with a cursory glance, often discomfiting to a visitor for its accuracy.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
An illustration from Beeton’s Christmas Annual for A Study in Scarlet. Wikimedia

2. A Study in Scarlet was not well received at first

The magazine publication of Doyle’s first novel did not generate immediate interest. It did receive some laudatory critical reviews, and in the summer of 1888, its publisher released it in book form. The book sold sufficiently to justify a second edition in 1889, and an American edition the following year. In 1890 Doyle submitted a second novel, The Sign of the Four. The work was commissioned for a new magazine, a British version of the popular American Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Meeting with the publisher at a dinner also attended by Oscar Wilde, Doyle at first hesitated to return to his fictional detective, but was attracted by the sum offered.

The dinner resulted in Wilde receiving a commission for work as well, which led to him writing and submitting The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott’s in February, 1890, in both the British and American editions. Wilde’s work, the only novel he ever published, appeared in July of that year. The two Holmes novels established most of the features exhibited by the detective for the remainder of Doyle’s stories in which he appeared, including his use of cocaine, his fondness for tobacco, his prodigious physical strength, and his indifference to women. Playing the violin and bouts of melancholy also appeared, as well as the disheveled state of the quarters which he shared with Dr. Watson.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Holmes and Watson gained popularity through serialization. Wikimedia

3. The Sign of the Four did not sell particularly well either

The second Holmes novel appeared in book form in the late summer of 1890. Like its predecessor, its sales were respectable, but hardly overwhelming. Sales were no doubt suppressed by its appearance, in serial form, in several British magazines throughout the year. These magazines truncated the title in several instances, referring to the work as The Sign of Four. The book edition in Britain and the United States also used the shorter title, and some still do. As in Britain, the American edition did not sell particularly well, and the novel appeared serialized in magazines at the same time the book appeared. Magazine sales were strong on both sides of the Atlantic, indicating a taste for Holmes in smaller doses.

The second novel includes the introduction of another Holmesian character, Mary Morstan, to whom Dr. Watson proposes marriage. Her acceptance near the end of the novel indicates that the brief partnership between Watson and Holmes would not last. As a married man, and a physician, Watson would leave their shared quarters in Baker Street. Some have speculated Doyle was already wearying of the detective he created, based on the ending of the second novel. He expressed the wish to work on other forms of stories, including historical fiction. By then, Doyle resided in London, with an office in Upper Wimpole Street, and a new commission for Holmes stories in short form from The Strand Magazine.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Sidney Paget created the iconic image of Holmes for The Strand. Wikimedia

4. The Strand Magazine shaped the appearance of Sherlock Holmes

In June, 1891, the first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories appeared in The Strand Magazine. Except for a break in the second half of 1892, a story depicting Holmes and Watson and their adventures featured in each edition of the magazine through December, 1893. The magazine featured illustrations by Sidney Paget, and the classic depiction of Holmes took shape through his work. The macintosh raincoat, deerstalker hat, oversized magnifying glass, and calabash pipe became symbolic of Holmes. In the stories, however, the detective was more likely to smoke cigarettes, made by his personal tobacconist in London. He also enjoyed cigars. Pipe smoking was employed for particularly difficult problems.

The first of the short stories, A Scandal in Bohemia, is related by Dr. Watson, and placed in 1888. Throughout the stories, Holmes is depicted as a man of action, physical strength, and skilled using a sword or gun, as well as other weapons. Each story offered him the opportunity to display his extraordinary powers of deduction. The detectives of Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police, as well as those of other agencies, appear as inept investigators, though courageous allies. In October 1892, the first twelve stories from Strand Magazine appeared in book form as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Mycroft Holmes first appeared in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. Wikimedia

5. Doyle grew tired of Holmes by 1893

In September, 1893, The Strand Magazine published The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, introducing a new character in the Holmes universe. Dr. Watson is astonished to learn that Sherlock has a brother by the name of Mycroft. According to Sherlock, Mycroft possesses skills in deductive reasoning which exceed his own, though he is too lazy to apply them. Sherlock reveals he has frequently consulted his brother for assistance, though in the story Mycroft asks Sherlock for help with a problem. Until this appearance, nothing in the previously published stories referred to any other members of Sherlock Holmes’s family.

The story was followed with the longest of the short stories produced to that time, The Adventure of the Naval Treaty. Its length required it to be published in two parts, in October and November, 1893. For the December issue, Doyle indicated his fatigue with the characters and the mysteries they solved. The Strand Magazine enjoyed booming sales during the two years of the Sherlock Holmes stories, as did Harper’s Weekly, which published most of the stories in the United States. When they received their submission for the December issue, The Final Problem, they learned that Arthur Conan Doyle killed the great detective, having him drown in mortal combat with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Doyle killed his character to concentrate on other areas of interest. Wikimedia

6. Doyle was careful to kill Holmes beyond any doubt

By the end of 1893, Doyle resented Sherlock Holmes for taking too much of his time. Though Holmes had made Doyle a significant amount of money, he wanted to concentrate on other literary pursuits. The short stories vastly improved the sales of the preceding books, and a second compilation The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, offered promising sales. Doyle decided it was time to end the series, and he created a story in which Holmes died in a blaze of glory, taking his archenemy with him to his death. In order to remove all doubt, he contrived for Holmes to leave behind a note describing his demise, written with Moriarty’s permission as he waited. Watson found the note when he arrived at the scene.

Doyle explained his decision to his mother, writing her “I must save my mind for better things even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him”. His stories had brought such success that he increased his fees to exorbitant rates, expecting the publishers to turn him down. Instead, they happily paid them, and demanded more Holmes. After a tour of Switzerland in 1893, accompanied by his wife, Doyle made the decision to he would never return to Sherlock Holmes and the confines of 221B Baker Street. His readers’ reaction soon made him realize he had made a serious mistake, though he continued to ignore Sherlock Holmes for several years.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
The Strand Magazine saw thousands of subscriptions canceled following Holmes’s death. Wikimedia

7. People mourned Holmes’s death on both sides of the Atlantic

The public reaction to the death of Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Professor Moriarty stunned his creator. The Strand Magazine, which had launched the detective’s popularity in Britain, received hundreds of letters protesting the decision. Worse for its publishers was the number of subscribers who canceled their subscriptions in outrage. Over 20,000 cancellations at the end of the year crippled the magazine financially, for a time it seemed as if it would fold. Across the Atlantic, Holmes had appeared in several different magazines, and the financial impact was considerably less formidable. Editors received letters of protest, but few cancellations occurred.

Doyle continued to write, concentrating on historical novels, which critics considered well-written, though nothing sold with the furor of the Holmes tales. Tales circulated around London of Holmes’ fans wearing mourning bands, and the author received excoriating letters, including from his own mother. The Strand Magazine pleaded with Doyle to resurrect his detective. Around London and other cities, clubs formed, including one which called itself the Baker Street Irregulars after characters in the short stories, dedicated to keeping Holmes alive. Doyle produced a few short stories which included Holmes, or references to him, which are not considered part of the official Holmes canon, including one in which a character uses a quote attributed to Holmes in a previous story.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Holmes fans demanded more stories featuring the detective and Dr. Watson. Wikimedia

8. Once you have eliminated the impossible…

In several of Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes uttered some form of the observation, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. In 1898, Doyle published in The Strand Magazine the short story, The Story of the Lost Special. The story describes the mysterious disappearance of a train and all of its passengers between stations. The mystery appears unsolvable. In the story, an anonymous letter is received by a newspaper, described as being from an “amateur of some celebrity”. The letter offers a proposed solution to the mystery and includes the quotation as the means of arriving at it.

Since then writers have used the quotation to link other characters to the fictional Sherlock Holmes. In the 1991 film Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country, Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock used the quote. He attributed it to someone he described as “an ancestor of mine”. Doyle’s use of the quote in a non-Holmes story five years after killing off his detective may have been an intentional tease of his fans; at the time he was working on a stage play which later received modifications from actor/writer William Gillette. The play, which enjoyed a highly successful run beginning in November 1899, included the first utterance of “Elementary, my dear Watson”, which never appears in the Holmes stories. Whether Doyle or Gillette wrote the phrase is unknown.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Doyle set the time of The Hound of the Baskervilles as preceding the detective’s death. Wikimedia

9. The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle served in South Africa during the Boer War, publishing a non-fiction account of his observations thereafter returning to London in 1900. For the next two years, he revised the work, based on reports from friends. Upon his return to London, he revisited Sherlock Holmes, creating a third novel, and setting it during a period before his character’s fatal encounter with Moriarty. The Strand Magazine jumped at the chance to return to the adventures of Holmes and Watson, publishing the work in serial form. Originally Doyle did not intend to include Holmes, producing instead a straight “Victorian Creeper” as he later wrote.

Though most of the action in the novel takes place far from London and Baker Street, Doyle introduced numerous aspects of the short stories. The Baker Street Irregulars travels about London, tobacco, music, and of course, his landlady Mrs. Hudson all appear early in the story, which shifts to Dartmoor for the main portion of the action. The novel was published in book form in 1902, and remains one of the most famous titles in the English language. Both the BBC (2019) and Le Monde (1999) list the book as one of their top 100 of all time. Its success led Doyle to reconsider the death of his character, and he explored the means of bringing Sherlock Holmes back to life.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
A Paget illustration from The Final Problem. Wikimedia

10. Sherlock Holmes returned to the “living” in 1903

The success of The Hound of the Baskervilles and continued pressure from fans and The Strand Magazine led Doyle to resurrect Holmes in short story form. The Adventure of the Empty House, which curiously appeared in America’s Collier’s Magazine in September, 1903, preceding its British publication in October, explained his long absence. Holmes told Watson he had defeated Moriarty, but decided to remain “dead” in order to thwart other dangerous enemies, including cohorts of his late nemesis. Doyle presented Mycroft as taking care of Sherlock’s affairs during his long absence, including maintaining his rooms in Baker Street.

Doyle eliminated Watson’s wife, making him a widower. Through this device, he enabled Watson to return to the Baker Street address. Though eight years had passed since the publication of The Final Problem, Doyle compressed it to three in the series, setting the return of his detective in 1894. The return of Holmes and Doyle’s establishing the characters as once again sharing their quarters, with Mrs. Hudson attending to their needs, indicated more stories were to follow. Over the next twelve months, a like number of Holmes short stories appeared in The Strand Magazine, as Doyle surrendered to the demand of his fans.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Doyle at first enjoyed his resurrected detective, though he tired of him again. Wikimedia

11. Doyle regained enthusiasm for his characters

In December, 1903, The Strand Magazine published a short story under the title The Dancing Men. It was later changed to The Adventure of the Dancing Men, and Doyle eventually wrote that it was his third favorite of all the Holmes stories (his overall favorite was The Adventure of the Speckled Band). His fondness for the story indicated his reticence over resurrecting the character had passed. It included Holmes deciphering an encrypted message, drawn in stick figures of men. Doyle enjoyed ciphers and codebreaking as a hobby, and closely followed emerging methods. One of these, frequency analysis, allows figures to be assigned corresponding letters.

Holmes used the method to crack the code, and then sent a message to a suspect in the same code. The Adventure of the Dancing Men became one of the most popular of all the Holmes stories, and numerous films, television adaptations, and radio plays are based on its premise. The story appeared in the United States in Collier’s, though the Sidney Paget illustrations did not. Nor had Paget’s work appeared in the American version of The Adventure of the Empty House. Collier’s presented illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele, who illustrated most of the Holmes stories in America.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle, with his family in New York City in 1922. Library of Congress

12. Holmes character changed as the stories went on

From October 1903 through December 1904, thirteen short stories featuring the adventures of Holmes and Watson appeared in The Strand Magazine. In one, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, Holmes engaged in a barfight in Surrey. He returned to Baker Street, where Watson had remained, and explained his bruises to Watson, though he also noted his opponent had to be carried home, unconscious. When Doyle submitted the story to his editors at The Strand Magazine, they rejected it on the grounds that there was too little of Holmes in the story. Doyle rewrote the story, though the final version displeased him, and he later discounted it as not up to his more recent works.

The story reminds Doyle’s fans that Holmes is a trained pugilist, as well as an expert in martial arts (Holmes used the then little-known Japanese martial art of baritsu to defeat Moriarty in the earlier story). It also generated some controversy over Doyle’s depiction of a defrocked minister. Nonetheless, it remained a popular story through several radio plays through the remainder of the 20th century, most of them relatively faithful to the original. When it originally appeared, a bicycling craze swept both Europe and the United States, and Doyle used the device in the title and story with his eye on cycling’s popularity.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Holmes as he appeared in Collier’s Magazine, by Frederick Dorr Steele. Wikimedia

13. The Return of Sherlock Holmes

In February, 1905, the most recent thirteen short stories appeared in a compilation, with the title The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Published first in America, and a month later in London, it was the first Holmes book since the Hound of the Baskervilles. In the British edition, the Sidney Paget illustrations for the stories were retained. The American edition used those which appeared in Collier’s Magazine. The thirteen stories presented the diverse range of clients who appealed to Holmes for assistance, which ranged from school principals to a fictional Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The book sold well in both countries, despite the stories’ earlier appearances in magazines.

Following the publication of The Return of Sherlock Holmes Doyle again took a break from the character. He gave no indication he intended to do so, and the public outcry which followed the death of Holmes did not arise, though The Strand Magazine received scores of letters in which the writers mentioned the absence of Holmes and Watson. The Return of Sherlock Holmes also featured one of the last appearances of Inspector Lestrade in the series. The somewhat inept Scotland Yard detective was mentioned by other characters in subsequent stories, but he last consulted with Holmes in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. The story appeared in The Strand and Collier’s in 1904.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
sherlock Holmes, disguised as a bookseller, in The Adventure of the Empty House. Wikimedia

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge appeared as two stories in succeeding editions of The Strand Magazine. Wikimedia

14. The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

Originally, the next Holmes story to appear was a combination of two stories, which appeared in two parts in The Strand Magazine under the title A Reminiscence of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It appeared in Collier’s Magazine as a single story in August, 1908. The Strand published the two parts in September and October. It revealed an aspect of Holmes’s character never before seen. In all of the preceding stories in which police officers and investigators appeared, their talents and skills were for the most part looked at condescendingly by the great detective.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 62 works featuring Sherlock Holmes, four novels and 56 short stories. In all but one, The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, his skills, deductive reasoning, and analysis of evidence, exceeded the abilities of the police. In the story, Doyle introduced Inspector Baynes, Surrey Constabulary, who demonstrated abilities equal to those of Holmes. Holmes is highly appreciative of Baynes’s abilities, and comments that the young detective should rise to the top of his profession. In no other Holmes story does he praise the investigative abilities of professional policemen.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Dr. Watson narrated all but three of the Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Wikimedia

15. Dr. Watson did not narrate all of the stories

In the 62 Sherlock Holmes stories considered by devotees to form his official canon, Dr. Watson narrates all but three. Two of the latter are recounted by Holmes himself. In October, 1926, the first of these, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier, appeared. Holmes investigates what turns out to be a medical problem, which would seem to have been more in the purview of his absent friend and partner. Doyle set the story in 1903. It first appeared in the American magazine Liberty before its publication in The Strand Magazine the following month. Holmes relates in the story that Watson was involved in another case, “described as that of the Abbey school”.

Another story told by Holmes occurs during his retirement in Sussex. Watson does not appear in the story and the reader is told that the two meet occasionally on weekends. Holmes spends his time beekeeping. It is the only story in the entire canon in which a mortal injury is inflicted on a character which is not caused by human intervention. Instead, the culprit in death is determined to be a type of jellyfish. Holmes correctly identifies the killer in this last of the mysteries written by Arthur Conan Doyle, though there is no crime and no criminal to implicate. It too, first appeared in Liberty in November, 1926, a month before it appeared in The Strand.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
George Wessels as Professor Moriarty, in the 1916 Broadway production of Sherlock Holmes. Wikimedia

16. Doyle’s final Holmes novel

Between September, 1914, and May of the following year the fourth and final novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear, appeared in serialization in The Strand Magazine. The time setting for the novel is not clearly established, though the events it relates to preceded the fatal encounter with Professor Moriarty. Moriarty is established as the antagonist in the book’s opening pages. Holmes also informs Watson in the opening pages that he was capable of reading ciphered messages, “as easily as I do the Apocrypha of the agony column”, referring to a daily column in The Times. The novel appeared as the opening months of the First World War generated most of the news of the day.

Despite the war, Doyle took as his theme the terrorist activities associated with labor unions in the United States and the political situation in Ireland. The Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society, provide much of the novel’s background story. Doyle’s final Holmes novel took his hero outside of his usual role of providing entertainment, and placed him solidly in the activities of domestic terrorism and anarchism. The novel was published as a book in the United States in February, 1915, before the serialized version in Britain ended. The following year it appeared as a full-length silent film in Britain, the second of the Holmes stories to be so treated.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
American actor, producer, and writer William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. Wikimedia

17. Doyle wrote plays featuring Holmes and Watson

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his favorite of all his Holmes stories was the short story The Adventure of the Speckled Band. In 1910 Doyle returned to the story, which originally appeared in 1892, with a three-act play titled simply The Speckled Band. He wrote the play in a week, later noting, “I shut myself up and devoted my whole mind to making a sensational Sherlock Holmes drama”. As he had so many times during his career, he turned to Holmes to lift him out of financial difficulties. An earlier play he had written was forced to close after being a minor success. Following the death of King Edward VII Britain’s theaters closed and Doyle, who had leased the theater at his own expense, lost considerable money.

Doyle clashed with the actor portraying the lead villain, who gradually through rehearsal altered the character’s role in the play. Exasperated, Doyle asked a mutual friend, J. M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) to attend a rehearsal and arbitrate the dispute. Barrie complied, and sided with the actor after seeing the play. The play was a major success in London, running for 169 shows before touring British theaters, followed by a tour of the continent. In autumn, 1910 it opened in America in Boston, later moving to New York, where it enjoyed similar success. In 1931 the script was used for the film, The Speckled Band, with Raymond Massey cast as Sherlock Holmes.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Invited to referee a heavyweight championship fight, Doyle regretfully declined. Library of Congress

18. Holmes as an amateur boxer

Arthur Conan Doyle was a noted sportsman throughout much of his life. He was devoted to cricket, enjoyed golf, and once entered the English Amateur Billiards Championship. His favorite sport however was boxing. In his younger days he boxed in several amateur events, and after his active days in the ring ended he remained a devoted fan of the sport. His knowledge of boxing and love of the sport was well-known to the point he was once invited to referee a world-championship bout between heavyweights Jack Johnson and James Jeffries, in Reno, Nevada. “I was much inclined to accept”, he later wrote, but his schedule was such that he was forced to decline.

Doyle imbued boxing skills in his creation, which first appeared in The Sign of the Four, and in later references in the short stories. Although Holmes also possessed self-defense skills which included fencing, baritsu, the use of a walking stick as a weapon, as well as the use of a riding crop, he did not exhibit much interest in sporting events. He once referred to a riding crop as his favorite weapon, though there are few instances of his riding on horseback in the stories. Nearly all of his travel is by railroad, cabs, and carriages.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Doyle drew this sketch of himself upon receiving his medical degree. Wikimedia

19. Doyle placed some of his own background in Dr. Watson as well

Arthur Conan Doyle was trained as a physician, and his early career was in medicine. He also served with the army in a medical capacity. As noted, he was a devoted sportsman. Several of these characteristics he presented in Dr. Watson. When Watson first appears in A Study in Scarlet he is described as “thin as a lath”, as would be expected of someone recently recovered from a long illness. Watson suffered a wound serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, and developed a fever during his recovery. In later texts, he takes on a hale, robust appearance.

Dr. Watson is described as a former athlete, having played rugby for Blackheath. As the stories wind on chronologically his appearance changes, as should be expected, but he remains throughout in good health and spirits. In film treatments of the stories Watson frequently suffers from being portrayed as almost a buffoon, though in Doyle’s writings he remains steadfast, loyal, and capable. Unlike Holmes, who fights ennui with drugs, Watson had a preference for gambling on horses, another trait he shared with his creator.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
The eduring popularity of Holmes and Watson never waned during their creator’s lifetime. Wikimedia

20. Doyle tried several times to end the series

Besides the lengthy hiatus initiated by Holmes’s death at the hands of Professor Moriarty, Doyle hinted many times that the series had ended. Financial considerations brought him back. Although Doyle wrote prolifically on many other subjects, none brought him the monetary rewards of Sherlock Holmes. In one story, The Adventure of the Second Stain, Watson intimates to the reader he intended the preceding story to be the last. He then explains the tale he is about to relate as being the most important of his friend’s career, hinting that it will be the final Holmes story. A nearly four-year gap in Holmes stories followed.

Late in the series, Doyle used Watson to refer to his friend in retirement having granted permission for him to relate a story from the days when they lived together in Baker Street. Often the permission was based on devices such as embarrassment to certain characters, or political scandal, having lapsed over time. Each of these stories implied the retired detective had no more tales to tell, other than the one currently being related. The demand for Holmes from the public never waned during Doyle’s lifetime, through the First World War, and well into the 1920s. The death of their author, in July 1930, did not mean the death of Holmes and Watson.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Adrian Conan Doyle (standing) with his father. Wikimedia

21. Adrian Conan Doyle and more Holmes stories

Adrian Conan Doyle, the youngest son of Arthur Conan Doyle, produced a manuscript that he claimed had been written by his father in September, 1942. He announced the manuscript was in his father’s distinctive handwriting, though subsequent investigation revealed it was typed. His sister, Jean, denied the work had been written by Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1948, Cosmopolitan published the story in the United States; five months later it appeared in the Sunday Dispatch, a London weekly magazine. Both claimed it to be an original work by Arthur Conan Doyle. Titled, The Case of the Man who was Wanted, it appeared as the first new Holmes story since 1928.

After its authorship was questioned by several literary critics and Holmes fans, a new wrinkle developed around the story. An architect by the name of Arthur Whitaker claimed he wrote the story, sent it to Doyle, and suggested they work together to ready it for publication. Doyle declined, though he kept the manuscript. Whitaker meanwhile retained a carbon copy of the manuscript, which he offered as proof of his authorship. Whitaker wrote the story in 1911 and produced several affidavits from people who had read it at that time. The story is printed under the title The Adventure of the Sheffield Banker when it can be found.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Publicity shot of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, a role he portrayed 14 times. Wikimedia

22. Adrian Doyle produced several new Holmes stories

Adrian Doyle used references to other cases within the stories written by his father to create several new short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. The stories were written, some of them in concert with Arthur Conan Doyle biographer John Dickson Carr, in the 1940s and 1950s. Throughout the Holmes canon, when discussing a case with Watson, Holmes sometimes called attention to another case which offered similarities. For example, a blackmailing scandal mentioned in passing in The Hound of the Baskervilles is presented as The Adventure of the Two Women by Adrian Doyle and Carr. Their partnership was troubled, and disputes between them over credit for authorship plagued their relationship.

Eventually, 12 new Holmes stories emerged. Lestrade returned in some of them, his investigative skills unimproved. Eleven of the stories appeared in Collier’s, and one in Life Magazine (The Strand Magazine ceased publication in 1950). Adrian Doyle claimed many of the plots were found in his father’s notes and other papers. However, as with many of Adrian’s claims, scholars dispute this. The stories were compiled into a book in 1954, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. It was not well received, and eventually emerged in two paperbacks, each containing six of the twelve stories. They also received little attention at the time of their release.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Later writers created new works featruing Holmes interacting with real persons, including Sigmund Freud. Wikimedia

23. Sherlock Holmes was adopted by scores of writers

Since Adrian Doyle’s final Holmes story, the character has been adopted by scores of authors, playwrights, and scriptwriters. He has appeared in nearly countless films, portrayed by John Barrymore, Clive Brook, Raymond Massey, and possibly most famously by Basil Rathbone, to name just a few. Watson too has been portrayed by actors as diverse as Nigel Bruce and Robert Duvall. One film, The Seven Percent Solution, had Holmes joining forces with Sigmund Freud, after the latter cured him of his cocaine addiction. Another, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (starring Rathbone), has Holmes battling Nazi agents during World War II.

Several comic book series featuring Holmes appeared over the years, in which the hero battles vampires, supervillains, and other characters far outside of Victorian and Edwardian London. Holmes and Watson have been transported into other eras than the gilded age in which they first appeared. Even the Muppets portrayed Sherlock Holmes, in a four-part series created by Boom! Studios. Gonzo the Great took the lead role of Holmes, Fozzie Bear portrayed Dr. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade was played by Kermit the Frog.

How Arthur Conan Doyle Plotted Against Sherlock Holmes
Holmes’ survival at the Reichenbach Falls seems to have made him immortal. Wikimedia

24. Sherlock Holmes appears to be immortal

Throughout the history of Sherlock Holmes, mortal danger threatened him countless times. Probably none more so than when he faced Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, with his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, determined to kill him forever. As his fans later learned, Holmes survived that encounter, as he did others throughout his career. Doyle wrote a greater number of short stories featuring Holmes after he failed to kill the character than he had before. He also branched off with plays, which in turn led to the earliest appearances of Holmes and Watson in the new medium of silent films.

Arthur Conan Doyle created other memorable characters, among them Professor Challenger in The Lost World, and Brigadier Gerard in a series of stories set during the Napoleonic Wars. His legacy though, is Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the foggy, smoky London they inhabit. Nearly a century and a half later, imaginations around the world are stirred by their adventures as they pursue a solution invisible to mere mortals, with Holmes calling to his companion, “The game’s afoot”. Doyle created a character which he could not kill. Nobody’s managed to kill him since.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Sherlock Holmes Handbook”. Christopher Redmond. 2009

“The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”. Martin Booth. 2000

“The Annotated Sherlock Holmes”. William S. Barring-Gould”. 1974

“The Story of The Strand”. Chris Willis, The Strand Magazine. December, 1984. Online

“The Final Problem”. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Strand Magazine

“The Mystery of Baritsu”. The Bartitsu Society. 1958. Archived Online

“Publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Richard Cavendish, History Today. March 3, 2002. Online

“A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes”. Nigel Cawthorne. 2011

“The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide”. Daniel Smith. 2009

“The Great Bicycle Craze”. Fred C. Kelly, American Heritage Magazine. December, 1956. Online

“The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge”. Arthur Conan Doyle, 2011

“The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier”. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Strand Magazine. November, 1926

“Sherlock Holmes On Screen”. Alan Barnes. 2004

“Adrian Doyle, Son of the Writer, Dies”. Staff, The New York Times. June 4, 1970

“The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes”. Adrian Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr. 1954

“Muppet Sherlock Holmes”. Patrick Storck, Amy Mebberson. 2011

“The Lost World”. Arthur Conan Doyle. 1912