Sherlock Holmes

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This is a general article about Sherlock Holmes fandom. For the character, see Sherlock Holmes (character). For other pages, see Sherlock Holmes (disambiguation).

Name: Sherlock Holmes
Abbreviation(s): SH
Creator: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930)
Date(s): 1887-1927
Medium: Literature; later plays, movies, and tv series as well
Country of Origin: UK
External Links: Sherlock Holmes on Wikipedia
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flyer for a 1981 convention

The character Sherlock Holmes and the stories about his detective work began in 1887 with the first story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since then, the stories have expanded into a large collection of literature, film, and television — some authorized by Conan Doyle's estate, some not.[1]

The Canon

The 56 short stories and 4 novellas that comprise the Holmesian canon were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 and 1927. During the past century they have been adapted into countless plays, films and TV shows.


The Fandom


At the time they were written, the stories were immensely popular; Conan Doyle famously became tired of his other work being overshadowed by his detective stories and finally killed Holmes off in "The Final Problem" (1893), provoking an intense public outcry. Many people wore black mourning bands, newspapers around the world reported on Holmes' death or ran obituaries, and over 20,000 people cancelled their subscriptions to Strand Magazine, in which the stories had previously been published. A decade later the author finally gave in and resurrected the detective for another three volumes' worth of adventures.

Conan Doyle generally wrote the Holmes stories quickly and with a minimal amount of editing, and as a result the canon contains a huge number of mistakes and inconsistencies. It was from these that the practice of "Holmesian speculation" arose, which consists of pointing out discrepancies in the canon and devising (sometimes reasonable, sometimes extremely outlandish) explanations for them. Frequently discussed problems in the canon include the chronology of the stories (Conan Doyle was very often careless about dates, leading to a number of puzzling inconsistencies); the number of times Dr. Watson was married (a topic heavily intertwined with the chronology problem); and the question of Watson's war wound (said to be in his shoulder in A Study in Scarlet and in his leg in The Sign of Four). The earliest recorded examples of this fannish activity are from 1902 [2], but the work that is considered to have really kicked off the fandom is Ronald Knox's 1911 essay, "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes," in which he satirized modern Biblical criticism by applying those same methods of analysis to Conan Doyle's stories.

As Knox jokingly compared them to the Bible, the early fandom quickly took to referring to the collected works as the "Canon" or the "Sacred Writings" (in fact, Holmes fandom was the first to use the word canon in its fannish sense).

Organized Sherlock Holmes fandom dates from 1934, when the Baker Street Irregulars were founded in New York City and the Sherlock Holmes Society arose in London. Both are active today, although the London organization was disbanded in 1937 and reformed in 1952. These groups expanded Holmesian speculation to create "the Great Game", which assumes that the stories are all accounts of true events written by Dr. Watson, and that Conan Doyle was merely Watson's literary agent. These assumptions, and the resulting scholarship, might be regarded as early manifestations of meta -- speculative or analytical material seeking to resolve apparent contradictions in Doyle's canon.

In 1941, Rex Stout first proposed his infamous "Watson Was a Woman" theory, in which he pointed to numerous instances of what, today, would probably be considered slashy subtext in order to conclude that Watson was really female and that she and Holmes were married. The Baker Street Irregulars were not amused, although Stout's essay was very obviously tongue-in-cheek. This is notable as an early fannish discussion of genderswap, and the concept has reappeared consistently both in modern fanfic and in television adaptations -- notably the 1987 TV movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes featuring Margaret Colin as Jane Watson, and the 1999 animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, in which Inspector Beth Lestrade is a key character.

In 1947, Jay Finley Christ devised the system of abbreviation that is still in use in the modern fandom: each canon story is represented by the first four letters of the first "significant" word in the title: so "A Scandal in Bohemia" is SCAN, "The Adventure of the Empty House" is EMPT, and so forth.

In 1981, for the 100th anniversary of Holmes and Watson meeting, fans gathered for Sherlockon in Los Angeles.

Despite the huge numbers of Holmes fans around the world, the fandom's online presence is surprisingly small; small enough, at least, that up through 2011, it remained an approved fandom for the annual Yuletide rare fandoms fic exchange. (In 2012, mainstream Holmes was ruled ineligible, but certain specific sub-fandoms continue to be permitted.) Nonetheless, Holmes/Watson slash fan fiction has become much more popular in recent years (more details needed re: popularity of slash).

From 2012 to 2016, The Sherlock Seattle Convention that celebrates all things Sherlock was held in Seattle.


Pastiche was the word for "fanfiction" in traditional Holmes fandom. Today the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably; but fanfic more often refers to works published online, especially those written within the context of the broader media fan community; while pastiche is more often applied to print publications.

The Hiatus is the fannish term for the three-year (or in the real world, ten-year) period between The Final Problem and The Empty House, during which Holmes was presumed dead. Fans have entertained themselves for decades speculating on precisely what he was really up to during this period.

The Master is an old fannish nickname for Holmes himself. It's not used very commonly in the modern Internet-based fandom, possibly to avoid confusion with the archvillain from Doctor Who.

Sherlockian fandom has also given fandom in general the terms Watsonian vs. Doylist, as labels for different ways to interpret a source text, plus Garrideb Moment, to describe the moment one character's injury reveals the deep feelings of the other as they react.


Fanfiction links

Fanzines and Journals


Until the premiere of Sherlock Holmes (2009), the few vids available online were mostly from the Granada series with Jeremy Brett. However, more vids are now being made from a number of different adaptations. See Sherlock Holmes (Granada) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) for examples. Lots of fans are also vidding Sherlock (BBC).

Vids featuring clips from multiple adaptations are also emerging, including:

This fits Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes (2009), the original stories, and the fandom itself into one slash vid.

This ambitious - not to say monumental - vid celebrates the full breadth of Holmes fandom, incorporating images from literally dozens of unique Holmesian adaptations. The AO3 archive includes commentary and a full list of sources by timestamp.

Aptly subtitled "an ode to bonkers Holmesiana" by its creator; includes images of aliens, dogs, dinosaurs, mice, Muppets, ferrets, vegetables, and more.

Fannish Resources Online

Fannish Online Discussion


Published Pastiches

Extra-canonical Sherlock Holmes literature is unusual, in that it includes both a large body of fan-produced work and a large body of professionally published material, much of the latter written by highly respected authors -- all of it arguably falling under the fanfiction umbrella. Sherlockian journals (the fandom's equivalent of fanzines) have existed for nearly a century, featuring both fiction and scholarly articles; according to some accounts, apocryphal Holmes stories comprise more than half of all English-language literary pastiches.[4]

In one notable example, Dorothy Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, once wrote a crossover in which an eight-year-old Peter Wimsey enlisted the help of Sherlock Holmes to find a lost kitten. [5] Some of these derivative works, like Shadows Over Baker Street are approved by the Holmes estate, while others are not.

A sampling of professionally published Holmes-related fiction includes:

  • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  • The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin (about Holmes' involvement with Jack the Ripper's killings)
  • The Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas (beginning with Good Night, Mr. Holmes)
  • The Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King (beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice)
  • The Doctor's Case, by Stephen King
  • The Professor Moriarty series by Michael Kurland (beginning with The Infernal Device)
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer (a crossover in which Holmes meets Sigmund Freud)
  • Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror! edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan, an anthology of crossovers with the Cthulhu Mythos. (Contains A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, which won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story.)
  • The Holmes-Dracula File, by Fred Saberhagen (first of several Holmes pastiches in Saberhagen's "Dracula" series)

A sampling of extra-canonical works derived from the Holmes mythos is listed on Wikipedia. [6]. A considerably more complete bibliography is The Universal Sherlock Holmes, hosted by the University of Minnesota Library's Special Collections.[7]

Some pastiches (notably the Mary Russell series and Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald") have spawned their own sub-fandoms, in which fanfic writers create stories that take place in the alternate universe established in the relevant source pastiche. Crossovers are a well-established trope in the fandom; Holmes has apocryphally encountered almost any real person or fictional character of the late 19th century one might care to name. In particular, having Holmes tackle the case of the Jack the Ripper murders is an extremely popular premise which has been used numerous times in books, film and video games. The detective has also been pitted against Count Dracula in multiple pastiches. The crossover tradition stretches back to one of the very earliest works of Sherlockian pastichery, John Kendrick Bangs' Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897), in which the ghosts of various real people, mythological figures and fictional characters mingle in the afterlife. This is also a rare example of a Holmes fic that was actually Jossed, as it was written during the period when Holmes was presumed dead after his battle with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

Outside of the English-speaking world

The Holmes stories have been quite popular in translation all over the world, and many popular adaptations and published pastiches exist in languages other than English.

This article or section needs expansion.


Some film and television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes have developed fandoms of their own:


Inspired Adaptations

Sherlock Holmes has directly inspired other films and TV shows that aren't explicitly Holmesian:

Connections to Other Fandoms

Sherlock Holmes is at least mentioned in an episode of most (if not all) of modern day crime dramas, and is occasionally central to episodes in a variety of shows:

  • CSI episode "Who Shot Sherlock" is about Holmesian cosplaying roleplayers and a mysterious murder among them.
  • Doogie Howser episode "The Adventure of Sherlock Howser"
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has a two-episode arc about Moriarty (see below).
  • Futurama episode "Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch" - a glitch in the "holoshed" leads to an appearance by Moriarty, a la the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.
  • Wishbone has two Sherlock Holmes episodes: "The Slobbery Hound" (based on The Hound of the Baskervilles) and "A Dogged Expose" (based on A Scandal in Bohemia).
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "Elementary, My Dear Turtle" takes the turtles back in time to meet Holmes and help fight Moriarty.
  • The Real Ghostbusters episode "Elementary My Dear Winston" features Holmes and Moriarty being made manifest by belief.

For more on Sherlock Holmes' connections to Star Trek, see Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle" feature the character of Professor James Moriarty (introduced in the canonical story "The Final Problem"), as re-created by the holodeck computer on the USS Enterprise-D. The latter episode occurs several seasons after the first; the show's producers had initially assumed that Moriarty's character was in the public domain, but were contacted by the Doyle estate after "Elementary, Dear Data", which believed otherwise and sought payment for Moriarty's appearance.[8]

House, M.D.

The character of Dr. Gregory House who solves medical mysteries in the TV show House, M.D., is a conscious echo of, or homage to, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. His friend Dr. James Wilson bears some resemblances to Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.[9]

Gallery of Sherlock Holmes Fan Art

Meta/Further Reading


  1. ^ The current copyright status of Sherlock Holmes is contested, in part because one collection of Conan Doyle's stories is still under copyright in the United States. According to, all the stories are in the public domain in Canada and the United Kingdom. See's Copyright summary, The New York Times article, and Techdirt's critique of that article.
  2. ^ The Straight Dope, Did Sherlock Holmes really exist? (accessed April 22, 2009)
  3. ^ WebCite for Changes in Sherlock Holmes fandom.
  4. ^ Neverending Stories: Professional Fan Fiction (accessed April 22, 2009)
  5. ^ Mayhap, DLS does crack; or, The Young Lord Peter Consults Sherlock Holmes
  6. ^ Wikipedia, Non-canonical works related and derived from Sherlock Holmes
  7. ^ The Universal Sherlock Holmes, Ronald Burt De Waal & George Vanderburgh, Accessed May 23, 2010.
  8. ^ Memory Alpha "Elementary, Dear Data" Accessed May 23, 2010.
  9. ^ How Dr. Gregory House is Like Sherlock Holmes page at House M.D. Guide. (accessed 4 September 2010)