There are some people who have a profound impact on their friends and relatives, there are others who may have such an impact on their neighborhood, and still others who have such impact upon their entire nation, but it is a much rarer person who has such an extremely profound impact upon his culture that he is forever alive in the hearts and minds of numerous generations of people. Such a man is Sherlock Holmes1.
We know nothing about his upbringing, we do not know where he was born, nor anything about his education; however, we do know that he has a brother named, Mycroft. He is a rather complex personality whose powers of observation and gift from deductive reasoning are profound. What we do know about this man’s life was made known to us by the writings of his friend and colleague, John H. Watson, M.D..
Undoubtedly, someone will say to himself or herself, “Why is this person writing about Sherlock Holmes as though he was a real person? He was the product of the imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and brought to life in the pages of Strand Magazine.” This is important historical information regarding the creation of Holmes, but it does not explain the profound impact that Holmes has had on Western culture.
No other character has been portrayed on television or radio more often than Sherlock Holmes. While the original stories were set in Victorian England of the 1890s, a series of films based upon Holmes and starring Robert Downey, Jr. (b. 1965) were produced within the past few years. There are numerous Sherlock Holmes Societies and he is popular in various countries.
In 1937, the Germans produced their own version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and from 1979 to 1986, LenFilms, a Soviet film studio, produced a series of Sherlock Holmes films starring Vasily Livanov (b. 1935) as Holmes. This character was so popular in the Soviet Union that there is a statue dedicated to both he and Dr. Watson in Moscow. In fact, there are many people who believe that the Holmes character who most closely resembled the figure in Strand Magazine was Vasily Livanov. He matched the character both in appearance and character, according to many people. Holmes is even extremely popular in China. There is even a current American television series entitled, “Elementary” which is based upon the character of Holmes played by Jonny Lee Miller (b.1972) with Dr. Watson played by Lucy Liu (b.1968).
It is quite interesting that there are even discussions, as mentioned above, regarding who did the best job portraying this character. It is entirely possible for two people to get into a rather heated debate about whether the Sherlock Holmes portrayed by Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) was better than the portrayal done by Jeremy Brett (1933-1995). Few, if any other characters, would inspire such loyalty in people that they would even be willing to debate such a topic as which person portrayed him or her in the best fashion.
Also, “Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street, London” continues to receive mail every year from people who turn to him for advice about a variety of topics. If Holmes were not “real”, what would inspire people to write to him asking for advice after all these years? If he was a real person he would certainly have passed away numerous decades ago and if he was simply the creation of someone’s imagination there is no “person” to actually write to. However, you cannot convince those whose lives he has touched that Holmes is not “real”.
In an earlier article I wrote about an American cultural icon, namely Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)2. He was the “Father of the Detective Story” and, in a certain way, we owe Holmes creation to Poe since it was Poe who inspired Conan Doyle to write about these stories in the first place. Poe’s stories are still read today, but the “person” of Sherlock Holmes has transcended both time and space. He was certainly one of the great icons of the 20th century and he continues to live on into the 21st century largely because he embodies a sense of fair play and justice which is not present in the lived world of most people.
For many people justice and fairness are not a part of their daily lived experience, but when they encounter the “person” of Sherlock Holmes they know that he will make everything right and restore that sense of fairness which they have lost. This is not simply a nice idea, but actually serves to provide hope to many people. Without a sense of hope it is difficult for many people to want to go on and Holmes helps them to see that there truly is hope after all.
1. “Sherlock Holmes” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherlock_Holmes
2. “Profile of a Cultural Icon” http://heideggerm1.blogspot.com/2012/06/profile-of-cultural-icon.html