The Sherlock Phenomenon

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s avant-garde fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, has captivated audiences since the character’s debut in 1887 with the publication of “A Study in Scarlet.” Skilled in deductive reasoning and forensics, this consulting detective revolutionized the mystery genre. In the most recent edition of Writer’s Digest, an article states that new stories “that hearken back to the Golden Age of detective fiction” are continually emerging in the modern mystery fiction market. Doyle’s influence has transcended the literary medium and has inspired many dramatic adaptations (both stage and screen), stretching all the way back to the late 1800’s during Doyle’s writing career. Some of the most famous include the early-1900’s play Sherlock Holmes—A Drama in Four Acts written by and starring William Gillette; the famous 1939 movie featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce; the two Robert Downey Jr. films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of ShadowsBBC’s Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch; and CBS’ Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller. The three most-recent Sherlocks, all of whom are friends, will soon be joined by Sir Ian McKellan in portraying the famed detective when the movie adaptation of the 2006 Sherlock-inspired novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, hits theaters. The official release date, not yet set, is estimated to be sometime in 2014.

In addition to the myriad responses of the global fanbase, Sherlock Holmes has also recently been in the news on the legal front. In February 2013, editor and scholar Leslie S. Klinger sued the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. He refuted its claim that a license was needed in order to publish his upcoming book, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes; he had previously worked on at least four similar works. Klinger argued that the stories were in the public domain and accused the Estate of “Copyfraud,” when false copyright notices are included in documents to garner illegal fees. The issue blew up on twitter using the hashtag #FreeSherlock, and Klinger created a blog, “,” to chronicle the legal proceedings. Eventually, the scholar won the case when Chief Judge Rubén Castillo ruled that “Klinger and the public may use the Pre-1923 Story Elements without seeking a license.” All the Holmes stories will enter the public domain in 2022. On January 12, 2014, in association with the BBC, PBS Masterpiece aired an hour-long special about the timeless appeal of Doyle’s iconic detective. The feature includes interviews with BBC’s Sherlock stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; the show’s creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss; and other experts. The special delves into the many inspirations for the popular twenty-first century Sherlock adaptation. Unlike most previous incarnations of the detective, the plot of BBC’s Sherlock derives much of its material straight from the Doyle stories such as “A Study in Scarlet,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and “The Final Problem”—the last of which has been dubbed “The Reichenbach Fall” for its final scene where Sherlock and Moriarty apparently fall to their deaths.

As Benedict Cumberbatch states, Moffat and Gatiss approach this show with a “fanboy reverence” unique to the British TV production. The entire documentary as well as other mini behind-the-scenes episodes are available on iTunes. Understanding the story behind the script is not the only knowledge Holmes fans are after. In this demanding and fast-paced world where distractions abound and impact one’s ability to focus and retain information, people also want to be able to think like him. Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes addresses this demand by delineating the differences between the regular and non-observant “Watson” brain and the aspirational “Sherlock” brain. She offers many tools and exercises to maximize the brain’s capacity for critical thinking and deductive reasoning. Spanning countries, generations, and gender, Sherlock Holmes appeals to almost everyone, and has for centuries. If you haven’t already joined the fandom (“Sherlockians”), it’s not too late. The books are available in any bookstore (physical or virtual), and the TV shows Sherlock and Elementary, as well as the recent films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows are all available on iTunes.

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