He may have been introduced to the world in 1887, but in 2018, Sherlock Holmes remains as much of a household name today as he was in the 19th century. A pop culture staple for 131 years, the fictional detective long ago stepped out of the pages of his titular books and onto the screen, both big and small.
But what is it that has driven such success? How has the famous sleuth and his synonymous deerstalker hat captured our imaginations for over a century? It’s an answer every writer, filmmaker, and artist would like to know…
The history of Holmes
In 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made an oddly emotionless entry in his diary: ‘killed Holmes’. Eliciting a national outcry, his decision to push the brilliant detective from a Swedish cliff catalysed a public reaction unlike any seen before. Causing 20,000 subscribers of The Strand magazine to cancel their subscriptions overnight, fans were left feeling utterly betrayed by their favourite fictional character’s untimely demise.
So dramatic was their response that the publication would come to know Holme’s death as ‘the dreadful event’. Barely surviving the backlash, they would be amongst the first to realise just how popular the beloved detective had become.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would soon come to the same conclusion. Forced to publicly apologise for his literary choice, he nonetheless privately claimed that: “I have had such an overdose of him… that the name… gives me a sickly feeling to this day.”
Yet it seemed he was the only one who would ever feel this way about the world’s most famous detective. Widely cited as the originator of fandom, the work of fiction and the franchise that emerged has an intense following to this day, with films (the most recent released in 2009), television series including the massively popular Sherlock, merchandise, and even online slot machines such as Holmes and the Stolen Stones still capitalising on its popularity in 2018. The slot, available to play on Mr Green, uses cartoon graphics and mysterious symbols such as magnifying glasses and keyholes to convey the mystery element that has made the franchise so popular.
The secret of Sherlock’s success
So what is it about the franchise that has generated such devoted and continual adoration from fans? Some suggest that Holmes’ enduring success is best attributed to the adaptability of Conan Doyle’s material. Transferring as easily to television as it did from book to big screen, Holmes’ was the original crime solver, one whose tales resound even now.
More than that, the detective sates an eternal hunger in us. There is something about the unknowable that frightens people, especially today, in our increasingly logical age. Holmes’ came along during the time of the enlightenment, and that drive for knowledge has never gone away – if anything, it has only grown greater as the years have passed. He’s a man who can unravel any mystery, and we like the certainty of knowing that he’ll never fail to deliver the answers we crave.
Perhaps, on some level, we also enjoy the familiarity of his character. Who amongst us didn’t watch him on our television screens growing up, or recognise him on film posters, his ever-present deerstalker hat instantly identifying him to us? There’s a part of us that loves the familiar and the reassuring, and in an increasingly fast-paced and confusing world, we can always rely on Sherlock to be just that.