Sherlock Holmes: A Hero for His Time – and Ours

Street signs on Baker Street, Westminster

As a Halloween costume, it's almost too easy–just wear a deerstalker cap, stick a calabash pipe between your teeth, and carry a magnifying glass. Say, "Elementary, my dear Watson." Chances are, everyone will know that you're supposed to be Sherlock Holmes. No matter that Holmes wore a cap only once in the original stories, that his pipe of choice was not a calabash, and that he never uttered that phrase. He did, however, use a magnifying glass occasionally.

Like other pop culture icons, Holmes and Watson have evolved since their creation over a century ago. Their characters have changed, as have the qualities for which audiences admire them. Below appear some of the best-known permutations of Holmes and Watson, as they have traveled from print to stage and radio, to film and television, and back to print again. It would be impossible to list every version here, so some guidelines have been included for further investigation. The game is afoot! Happy sleuthing.

The Many Faces of Holmes
The original readers of the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, had to do with four lackluster illustrations by D.H. Friston, but, when the novella was published in book form, Holmes looked something like Arthur Conan Doyle's own father, Charles Altamont Doyle–and was, in fact, the elder Doyle's creation. The author's father created a series of vague line-drawings that unfortunately failed to capture the excitement of the text. He gave Sherlock Holmes his own features, including his scraggly beard. No record exists of his son's response.
Holmes and Watson on the town

When "A Scandal in Bohemia" was published in The Strand Magazine in 1891, readers were greeted with Sidney Paget's moody drawings, which represent Holmes as tall, handsome, and elegant, despite Conan Doyle's original description, according to which Holmes was extremely thin, with a large nose and small eyes set close together. Apparently Paget's younger brother Walter, whom the artist used as a model, was quite a handsome fellow. Years later, after his brother's death, Walter himself illustrated a few of Conan Doyle's stories in The Strand.

Conan Doyle soon grew attached to Sidney Paget's elegant vision of Holmes, and when he met the American actor William Gillette, who wanted to play Holmes on the stage, he felt that his creation had come to life. Pictures of Gillette as Holmes, wearing the famous dressing gown, can be found at the "221B Baker Street" website (ed. Sherry Franklin):

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